Oct. 10, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
For a moment on Saturday afternoon, Tennessee safety Eric Berry looked like he was going to become the NCAA's all-time leader in interception return yardage.
When cornerback Art Evans drilled Georgia receiver Michael Moore and jarred the ball loose, Berry plucked it from the air and took off 46 yards to the Georgia 14-yard line.
It's the same kind of play that has netted Berry 487 career interception return yards, already a Tennessee and SEC record.
But Saturday's play was ruled a fumble because Moore had possession before Evans knocked it loose.
"I just saw the ball," Berry said. "Coach says good things happen when you run to the ball. I saw it come out, and I was trying to make a play for the team.
"The crazy part about it was how excited the whole defense was to turn and block. A lot of those guys were running faster than me, and I was the one that had the ball. It's amazing how unselfish our team is and how unselfish our defense is."
So far this season, Berry has proven pretty unselfish himself.
After making plenty of big plays at safety last season, he's adjusted to a new role this year that has him playing the run as much as he's playing centerfield, if not more.
So Saturday's fumble return felt good, to say the least.
"It felt really good, just to get my hands back on the ball a little bit and do something with it," Berry said. "Trying to be like my man over here, Montario (Hardesty), and make some moves on the field."
Hardesty isn't the only teammate Berry wants to emulate. Defensive end Chris Walker picked off his second pass of the season after taking back a screen pass for a touchdown against Ohio.
"I still have a little bit over him," Walker joked. "I've got a pick six."
Shutting Down Green: Perhaps the biggest impact Georgia receiver A.J. Green had in Saturday's game was on the stat sheet.
The sophomore entered the day as the SEC's leading receiver, and left with a game-high eight catches. But he only had 60 yards receiving, 45 yards below his average and his second lowest total of the season aside from a four-catch, 52-yard performance against Oklahoma State in the Bulldogs' opener.
Part of the reason was defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's game plan, which he borrowed from his days trying to shut down Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"There was a lot of special attention, a lot of different coverages specific for this week," Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin said. "They did a great job obviously of scheming him up."
Third Quarter Turnaround: Entering Saturday's game, the Vols had been outscored 32-14 in the third quarter.
This week, though, Tennessee outscored Georgia 17-7 in the third quarter to take command of the game.
"It came down to guys doing things right," Kiffin said.
Assist Man: Defensive end Gerald Williams tipped a pair of passes Saturday, including one that wound up in Walker's hands for an interception. Unfortunately, there's no stat for an assist.
"It wouldn't be a bad stat to be keeping track of," Williams said, smiling. "We got the win, and Chris Walker had a great interception. I'll take that any day."
On the year, Williams has broken up three passes.
Dirty Laundry: The Vols entered as the SEC's least penalized team, but committed a season-high seven penalties for 47 yards. Still, the Vols only committed one penalty after halftime.
Georgia, which entered as the SEC's most penalized team, was flagged nine times for 79 yards.
Odds and Ends: Tennessee's 45 points are the most against an SEC team in regulation since it scored 51 at Georgia in 2006. ... Receiver Gerald Jones again notched a career day with 105 receiving yards. He set his previous high of 75 yards last week against Auburn. ... UT's three turnovers tied the Western Kentucky game for a season-high. ... UT's offensive line did not allow a sack for the second straight week and for the third time in six games this season.