Vols slam MSU

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   KNOXVILLE -- Neyland Stadium was like a pinball machine.
   Mississippi State set the traps, but Tennessee's defense paddled its offense in free play mode all afternoon, lighting up the scoreboard along the way.
   Utilizing a 28-7 halftime lead, Tennessee put up five straight scoring drives to open the second frame to wind out a 59-21 SEC whipping on Saturday.
   The ninth-ranked Vols were clearly unstoppable against the weaker Bulldog unit, putting points on the board courtesy of a high-powered offense after a wrecking defense that came away with three turnovers.
   "Obviously this is a good step for us," said Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer.
   The margin of victory is the most in conference play for the Vols since 2000, when the unit beat Kentucky 59-20.
   "The goals are still alive for us, looking at the big picture," the coach said. "I'm glad to get the win and I'm glad to get the points we got. Offensively, it was our best showing by far."
   The focus of the afternoon was on Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen, who threw for 330 yards and tied the school record for most touchdown passes in a game with five.
   "I think as a team, this is probably the best game we've played all year," Clausen said. "Hopefully, we can build on that and continue to get better."
   Clausen connected with sophomore Chris Hannon for three of the scores.
   The Vols almost doubled the Bulldogs' rushing numbers with a good ground effort from Gerald Riggs and Jabari Davis, who plowed through for two scores.
   Defensively, Gibril Wilson was all over the place for Tennessee with three tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. Volunteer Marvin Mitchell also recorded an interception, while J.T. Mapu forced a fumble and O.J. Owens blocked a punt.
   "We took care of business and got a great victory," Wilson said. "When we're solid, we're pretty good."
   The only thing Tennessee needed to work on during the game was its special teams defensive units as Nick Turner delivered 266 yards in returns for State.
   However, the Volunteer starting unit gave up one score to the Bulldogs, that coming in the first quarter.
   The Vols struck first when Hannon made an 18-yard scoring grab from Clausen, but Mississippi State's Justin Jenkins returned the favor with a 19-yard grab and go from Kevin Fant.
   The orange defense made things happen for the offense, setting up three more scores in the half. Derrick Tinsley caught a 12-yarder from Clausen, while Davis fought through a two-yard score.
   Before going into the second half receiving the ball, Clausen landed Mark Jones with a 38-yard TD at less than two minutes to go in the frame.
   However, nothing could compare to the next stanza, when Tennessee tried to burn the lights off the scoreboard.
   A big 42-yard run from Davis set Clausen up with a 30-yard corner score to Hannon after less than three minutes transpired in the third quarter.
   Four plays later and the unit was back on the field after Owens' punt block when Davis leaped over the pile with a one-yard score.
   The Vols forced State to punt during their next series, prompting Clausen to find James Banks with a 50-yard strike before Hannon made his record-tying third grab of the game on a five-yard slant pattern.
   A 26-yard field goal from James Wilhoit sent it into the fourth quarter where fullback William Revill scored on his first run of the year, a 13-yarder.
   Tennessee began subbing second and third string units by that point, including quarterbacks C.J. Leak and Jim Bob Cooter.
   The Bulldogs scored twice with under four minutes to go in the game, both one yard runs. The first was from Fred Reid, with Brent Smith hooking up with Nick Signaigo for the conversion.
   The last score was from Kyle York with 28 seconds to go in the game.
   "We really got it clicking today," Banks said. "In the passing game, we looked solid and we just have to build on this and keep getting better. We came out fast and aggressive and capitalized on them."
   After Saturday's game, Tennessee was plus eight in turnovers in the last three outings, with no turnovers. The Vols have won seven of the last eight meetings against the Bulldogs.
   "The offense did good today and defensively, we made a few things happen," added Tennessee defensive end Constantin 'The Germanator' Ritzmann. "It was a really good game for us. I think we're getting better and we're excited about that."
   Tennessee needs to win its last two games of the season, beginning this week at home against Vanderbilt, in order to stay in the mix of the BCS bowl hunt.
   Georgia's victory over Auburn puts the Vols in an uncomfortable position, unless Tennessee can run their table and hope for some upsets in the top ten of the series rankings.
   The November streak is still intact for the unit, having a 71-4 record in November games since 1985, including a 41-2 mark at home with the only two losses coming to number one ranked teams.
   Saturday's outing with Vanderbilt will begin at 12:30 p.m., telecast across the state on pay-per-view.