Vols do too little, too late

When a Daniel Lincoln field goal narrowed the gap to 23-16 with 4:19 left, Tennessee needed one stop and one touchdown to send Saturday night's game with unbeaten Auburn into overtime.

Onterio McCalebb returned the ensuing kickoff 52 yards, however, setting up a game-clinching 22-yard Wes Byrum field goal with 39 seconds left.

Although Byrum's kick ended the suspense, it didn't end the scoring. Vol quarterback Jonathan Crompton hit Denarius Moore with a 32-yard touchdown pass on the game's final play but Tennessee still came out on the short end of a 26-22 score.

Auburn (5-0 overall, 2-0 SEC) got superior performances from quarterback Chris Todd, plus tailbacks Ben Tate and McCalebb. Todd completed 19 of 32 passes for 218 yards. Tate carried 25 times for 128 yards. McCalebb added 51 yards on 13 rushes, plus kickoff returns of 52 and 39 yards.

Crompton completed 20 of 43 passes for a career-best 259 yards for Tennessee (2-3, 0-2). Montario Hardesty was typically dependable - rushing 21 times for 90 yards and adding another 56 yards on three receptions. Gerald Jones posted career highs for both catches (7) and yards (75).

Tennessee's offense converted on just 4 of 17 third-down tries, however, helping Auburn keep the ball nearly 35 of the game's 60 minutes. As a result, the Vol defense wore down in the second half, enabling the Tigers to pile up 459 yards of total offense.

Tennessee's special teams struggled, as well, allowing the Tigers to return four kickoffs for 140 yards, an average of 35.0 per runback. McCalebb's return following Lincoln's final field goal was a real backbreaker.

The Vols opened the game with a 41-yard run by Nu'keese Richardson out of the "Pahokee Package" but the Vols were unable to capitalize. Lincoln hooked a 39-yard field goal wide left.

"It was kind of a demoralizing field goal because it was kicked the way it was," head coach Lane Kiffin said on his post-game show. "Daniel hurt his quad early in the week and did not kick all week because of it."

Tennessee's next five possessions went as follows:

Three and out

Fumbled snap recovered by Auburn at the Vol 30-yard line

Three and out

Three and out

A 21-yard Hardesty run, followed by three plays and a punt.

"There was no rhythm," Kiffin said. "We were inaccurate (with throws). We were dropping balls, especially in the first half, and we were 4 for 17 on third downs. You're not going to win many games if you do that."

With Tennessee's offense doing next-to-nothing, Auburn built a 13-0 lead on Byrum field goals of 29 and 43 yards, plus an 11-yard touchdown run by Tate.

"I thought we started extremely slow on offense and backed ourselves into a hole," Kiffin said. "Our defense was playing well early; we were giving up some yards but we were only giving up field goals."

Tennessee's offense finally came to life on its final possession of the first half. A 40-yard Crompton-to-Luke Stocker pass and a 16-yard run by Hardesty set up a one-yard plunge by the latter that narrowed the gap to 13-6 with 28 seconds left to intermission. Lincoln's PAT was blocked, however, and that remained the score heading into the third quarter.

Byrum booted an 18-yard field goal in the third quarter and Todd hit Terrell Zachery with a 10-yard touchdown pass as the Tiger lead swelled to 23-6 four plays in the fourth quarter.

Tennessee answered with a seven-play, 62-yard drive capped by a Crompton screen pass that Hardesty took 31 yards to paydirt, narrowing the gap to 23-13 with 11:36 to play.

The Vols launched an 18-play, 72-yard drive on their next possession but had to settle for a 27-yard Lincoln field goal that whittled the deficit to 23-16 with 4:19 left.

Just as it appeared the Vols might pull out a come-from-behind victory, however, McCalebb made his 52-yard kickoff return.

Ultimately, Game 5 was much like Games 2, 3 and 4: The Vols played well defensively but didn't get much help from their offense.

"Third down, there was no rhythm to it," Kiffin said. "We put our defense out there forever. Our defense got worn out, just like anybody would."

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