Vols overcome pesky Duke

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   KNOXVILLE -- For three quarters, Tennessee had more trouble out of the Duke boys than Boss Hogg.
   Leading only 9-6 early in the fourth quarter, Corey Larkins made a key fumble recovery off a punt return that pushed the Tennessee Volunteers to a 23-6 homecoming win over the Duke Blue Devils.
   "We were noticing how he was carrying the ball kind of loosely," said Larkins. "Coach (Phil) Fulmer was telling us we needed a big play on special teams. Troy Fleming stripped the ball and once it's on the ground, it's ours."
   Larkins' recovery came on the heels of a goal line stand by the Vols, which kept the Devils from taking the lead.
   "We were thinking we need to make a big play," said UT linebacker Kevin Simon about the goal line stand. "Somebody needs to make a play and get them stopped. We kept them out of the end zone, so obviously everyone showed heart on that stand."
   Those key shifts were enough to doom the Blue Devils' chances for scoring the upset.
   "The fumbled punt was a big turning point," said Duke head coach Ted Roof. "I felt the momentum turning our way. We had a big sack and then the fumble. We had to fight to get the momentum back.
   "Our team believed they could win. I didn't look at this game as one coming between Alabama and Miami. We just show up and try to play to win."
   Despite his No. 19 ranked team's offensive struggles, Tennessee's head coach was pleased with the outcome.
   "I was glad to get a win against a determined Duke team," said Fulmer. "I don't think we played our best game obviously, but we did get points every time we were in the red zone.
   "Duke really had a good game plan and they did a good job mixing everything up. This was a dangerous game sandwiched between a five overtime affair with Alabama and a big game with Miami next week."
   Six plays after the Larkins recovery, quarterback Casey Clausen connected on a five-yard strike to Chris Hannon at the 11:10 mark to put the Volunteers up by two scores.
   "Initially it was a running play, and Casey checked it off because he saw something in the middle," explained Hannon. "When he gave me the signal, I looked in the middle and saw it was a good call. When the ball was in the air, I went to go get it."
   After Duke missed a 38-yard field later that would have closed it back to seven, Tennessee put together a six-play, 80-yard drive, highlighted by a 42-yard strike from Clausen to James Banks. It was capped off by Gerald Riggs' 12-yard run at the 4:20 mark for the final score.
   That drive beared little resemblance to the rest of the Volunteer offensive performance.
   After managing 41 yards of total offense in a scoreless first quarter, Clausen made a 40-yard completion to Tony Brown to start the second quarter and inject some life into the lethargic Tennessee offense.
   James Wilhoit finally got the Vols on the board with 13:01 left in the quarter, when he nailed a 45-yard field goal from the left hash mark. Duke responded nicely on the next series, making a 10-play, 40-yard drive that culminated with Brent Garber sending a career-long 54-yard field goal through the uprights.
   Tennessee did retake the lead on the next series after driving from their 20 to the Blue Devil 21, but had to settle for a second Wilhoit field goal from 38 yards out.
   Controversy was added to the mix in the closing seconds of the half, when an apparent fumble by Duke QB Chris Dapolito was returned for a touchdown by the Vols' Gibril Wilson. Instead the officials ruled the play an incomplete pass.
   Bolstered by the good fortune, the Devils drove down the field and tied the game on a 37-yard field goal by Matt Brooks. Looking little like a team whose only two wins had come over Western Carolina and Rice, the game was deadlocked 6-6 at the half.
   The Vols (6-2) only mustered three more points in the third quarter, with Wilhoit making good on a 29-yard field goal attempt.
   That belied a strong performance from tailback Jabari Davis, who tallied 113 yards on 17 rushes. Clausen added to the offensive totals by completing 16-of-27 passes for 208 yards.
   They were countered on the Blue Devil side by Chris Douglas, who racked up 128 yards on 29 carries.
   "We were pleased with where the game was in the second half," said Roof, whose team fell to 2-7 with the loss. "It was a slow-down, trading punches type of game. I'm proud of the effort of our players. The game unfolded like we needed it to."
   A rival of Tennessee's from previous eras, the win gave Tennnessee a 14-13-2 edge in the all-time series that began in 1893.
   Next up for the Vols is a showdown at No. 2 ranked Miami. For the Vols, it will be an opportunity to avenge last year's lopsided 26-3 Homecoming loss in Knoxville.