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SEC: Vols regroup against South Carolina

©Associated Press

November 3, 2002


COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer thought he was taking a chance when he went for it on fourth down. Quarterback Casey Clausen knew changing the call was a sure thing.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer thought he was taking a chance when he went for it on fourth down. Quarterback Casey Clausen knew changing the call was a sure thing.

Clausen rolled right on fourth and 1 from the 5 and dived into the end zone untouched, lifting Tennessee to its 10th straight victory over South Carolina, 18-10 on Saturday.

Fulmer initially sent kicker Alex Walls in for a field goal that would have put the Volunteers ahead by five. But when Clausen called timeout because of a substitution problem, he came to the sideline and asked, "Are you sure you want to do this? I'll get in."

Fulmer said, "To heck with it. We're going for it and we're going to win the football game right here."

Despite a sprained left ankle, Clausen carried the ball behind tight end Jason Witten and Tennessee moved to 65-3 in November since 1985. South Carolina has lost two straight for the second time this season.

The win also revived the confidence Tennessee lost with back-to-back losses last month against Georgia and Alabama, Clausen said.

Things had gotten so bad, ex-Tennessee stars like Heath Shuler were openly questioning the team's heart. Then came last week's news that star receiver Kelley Washington was out indefinitely because of a concussion.

"Obviously, things haven't gone our way this year," said Clausen, who was 17-of-23 passing for 175 yards and one touchdown. "Wins, losses, injuries, whatever you want to call it. This was special, important for us to have a big win for guys to feel good about themselves again."

After South Carolina closed to 12-10 in the fourth, Clausen led a 17-play drive that sealed it. Clausen threw a 4-yard pass to Witten for a first down. Then came Clausen's scoring run with 6:19 left that put the Vols ahead 18-10.

South Carolina got the ball twice more but could do little with it. Vols cornerback Jabari Greer intercepted South Carolina backup Dondrial Pinkins with 2:05 left, and Tennessee ran out the clock. Fulmer was high-fiving assistants in the final minutes, glad to achieve his 100th career victory.

South Carolina quarterbacks Corey Jenkins and Pinkins combined to go 5-of-19 passing for 45 yards and three interceptions.

* * *

ALABAMA 30, VANDY 8: Tyler Watts threw for 176 yards and rushed for a touchdown, and the Crimson Tide won its 18th straight in the series. Alabama, which got its 750th victory last weekend, assured the Commodores of their 20th consecutive losing season.

The Crimson Tide, the SEC's best team at keepaway, held the ball more than 36 minutes and rolled up 428 yards with 76 plays. The nation's fourth-best defense held the Commodores to a season-low 162 yards, forcing two turnovers.

"We were efficient," coach Dennis Franchione said. "Our defense was relentless, and we were solid in the kicking game."

Alabama improved to 41-2 against Vanderbilt since 1961 and has not lost to the Commodores in Nashville since 1969. The win was Alabama's fourth straight on the road in the SEC, something the Tide had not done since 1999.

The Commodores entered with the nation's 25th-best rushing offense, averaging 205.5 yards. They had 46 yards total offense in the first half and 46 yards rushing for the game. Their seven completed passes were the fewest since October 1998, when they matched that in a loss to Texas Christian, whose coach was Franchione.

AUBURN 31, OLE MISS 24: Travaris Robinson caught Eli Manning's third interception of the second half in the end zone with 1:52 left to seal it for the visiting Tigers. Ronnie Brown rushed for 224 yards on 33 carries and three TDs for Auburn. His third touchdown, a 21-yard run in the third, gave Auburn a 22-17 lead.

The Tigers ensured bowl eligibility with home games against Louisiana-Monroe and undefeated Georgia coming up.

"We have a lot more in sight in the next three games, two at home," coach Tommy Tuberville said. "When you are out of the (SEC) race, you lose momentum and work ethic. That's the main reason it's a big win."

Mississippi dropped consecutive SEC road contests to Alabama and Arkansas. Manning finished 23-of-46 for 284 yards and three TDs after going 2-of-9 for nine yards in the first 20 minutes. Chris Collins caught all scoring passes from Manning and finished with eight receptions for 106 yards.

KENTUCKY 45, MISS ST. 24: Derek Abney set school records for career kick-return touchdowns and punt return yardage in a season, finishing with 225 all-purpose yards for the visiting Wildcats.

Abney returned two punts for touchdowns and Artose Pinner scored on a 1-yard run -- all in the third. Abney's first touchdown came on a 69-yard punt return to turn a close game into a rout for Kentucky. The Wildcats had lost their past three to Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs have been outscored 152-61 by SEC teams, who are averaging 38 points against Mississippi State.

"I take it as a challenge that they kick it back to me," said Abney, who returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown against Florida this season to become the seventh player in NCAA history to accomplish the feat.

"I didn't think I could get four punt returns in one season," Abney said. "The looks on the punt return team's faces and ... the other team's faces are unreal."

Pinner, the SEC's leading rusher, ran for more than 100 yards for the sixth straight game, finishing with 104 yards. Mississippi State quarterback Kevin Fant completed 9-of-30 with three interceptions, all of which led to Kentucky scores.

Fant finished with 162 yards passing, including 91-yard touchdown to Terrence Grindle, the longest TD pass in school history.

ARKANSAS 23, TROY ST. 0: Cornerback Bo Mosley scored twice, on a blocked punt and interception, and blocked a punt to make up for the host Razorbacks' lack of offense. Arkansas, which did not make a first down until 2:37 left in the first, finished with six first downs and 125 yards. Troy State held the ball for 11:01 of the second quarter, but had only 31 yards.

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