Vols get past Thundering Herd


Photo by Dave Boyd
James Banks scores Tennesseeƕs first touchdown on a 24-yard catch.

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
KNOXVILLE -- As hard as Tennessee tried, they couldn't put Marshall away. Then James Wilhoit stepped up for the Volunteers.
The returning kicker made two key field goals after defensive stops to help the 12th-ranked Volunteers fight away from a 28-24 lead for a 34-24 victory in the two teams' first ever meeting.
"There were two or three big upsets today, and I'm glad we're not one of them," said Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer, who took the edge in the first meeting of the winningest active head coaches in division 1-A college football.
"I take my hat off to Coach (Bob) Pruett and Marshall. They did a fabulous job coming and here and playing will. They are a good team."
The MAC powerhouse and former Southern Conference member had a well-balanced attack behind quarterback Stan Hill, who was 16 of 24 for 242 yards and three scores. He also ran for 57 yards, pacing the team until an injury in the fourth quarter.
Cedric Houston had another big game at home, rushing for 167 yards on 26 carries, 124 of which came in the second half. The Volunteer passing game was an overall improvement as Casey Clausen was 21 of 33 for 235 yards and three scores.
"Our players certainly gave a good effort," added Marshall coach Bob Pruett. "Tennessee has a fine football team. I told people we had another outstanding quarterback and nobody believed me. I thought he was the best quarterback on the field, but Casey Clausen was better than I thought he was."
The Vols had many chances to put the game away defensively, racking up six sacks and an interception. However, penalties were a big statistic as 118 yards went the other way.
"We were our own worst enemy," Fulmer said. "If we want to be a good team, we can't do the retaliatory kind of penalties. Our captains addressed that in front of the team after the game.
"I probably shouldn't say this, but we have no business playing a team from the MAC conference bringing their officials down here. I'm not saying they did a bad job or anything, we don't need to do that."
Tennessee had trouble early offensively and Marshall utilized it into their own scheme with a six-play, 96-yard drive ending with a 9-yard touchdown throw from Hill to Jason Rader.
The Vols evened things in the second quarter when James Banks caught a 24-yard scoring pass from Clausen.
Marshall ran the clock down before reclaiming the lead with a 34-yard field goal from Ben Lewis. But the momentum was about to switch when Tony Brown made an amazing 27-yard touchdown grab from Clausen with 20 seconds to go in the first half.
The Vols took the ball to open the second half and drove it 80 yards on some big Houston rushes. Jabari Davis flipped over the Thundering Herd line from two yards out, putting Tennessee on top 21-10.
Marshall rallied right back with an 80-yard drive of their own, finishing with a 13-yard score from Hill to Darius Watts to close the gap at four.
Clausen hit Fleming with a three-yard touchdown pass and Josh Davis escaped with a 65-yard touchdown catch to make it 28-24 going into the final period.
Two 55-yard drives gave Wilhoit room to hit 42- and 35-yard field goals to secure the victory.
"We definitely picked it up today in the passing game, as well as the running game," said Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen. "We played hard and we played well. We started off slow and that's one thing that we'll have to watch on film, and see what happened there. But after the first quarter, we picked it up and started making some plays downfield."
The victory makes Tennessee 2-0 all-time against members of the Mid-American Conference.
Tennessee entered the game ranked No. 1 nationally in total defense and rushing defense, but that will probably change after Marshall's 382-yard evening.
"They gave us a run for our money," said Volunteer linebacker Kevin Burnett, who had seven tackles and a sack. "We gave them more yards (through penalties) than they actually got in one drive. We just have to be more disciplined. We knew we were in for a shootout."
Kevin Simon's three sacks ties with many for No. 2 all-time on UT's single-game list. Marshall's Roberto Terrell led both teams defensively with 10 tackles, while Simon and Jabari Greer had eight apiece for the Vols.
Tennessee had 458 yards in total offense.
The squad will take next week off before traveling to "The Swamp," where they will meet Florida in a key SEC match-up.