Nov. 15, 2009
Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin maintained one day later that Saturday's contest at Mississippi was in the balance five minutes into the second half. UT couldn't convert a golden opportunity and from there it was all Rebels, the hosts cruising to a 42-17 decision.
Defensive tackle Wes Brown's interception at the Ole Miss 43 just five minutes into the third quarter seemed to signal that things were turning Tennessee's way. The Vols already had opened the period with a field-goal drive, closing the Rebels lead to 21-17.
"We were hanging in there, kind of exchanging blow for blow," Kiffin said. "Our defense gets the first turnover of the day, which was big. It put us in great position to take the ball down and take the lead in the game. Then we screw up that series with a four-and-out, especially getting to third-and-2 and losing yards.
Kiffin said it went downhill from there.
"There were another six possessions left in the game -- three on offense and three on defense -- and we lose 21-0. For the first time this year, we really got dominated in the fourth quarter with our starters in there."
Tennessee owned a 76-23 advantage in fourth-quarter scoring this season before Saturday's play. But these final 15 minutes were different, as national player of the week Dexter McCluster raced 71 yards for his fourth touchdown of the game and Ole Miss marched 72 yards in 14 plays for its final score.
"That's disappointing; that's not who we are," Kiffin said. "But we have to make sure that's not who we are by going out these last two regular season games and finishing really strong."
Tennessee hosts Vanderbilt this Saturday (7 p.m. on Vol Network and ESPNU) before traveling to Kentucky for the Nov. 28 finale.
In addition to the 42 points, Ole Miss rushed for 359 yards and six touchdowns -- the bulk of which came from McCluster's 282 yards and four scores. The Rebels finished with 492 yards of total offense for the most against a Vols defense in a regulation game since Florida tallied 554 in 2007.
"On defense, we were horrible," Kiffin said. "We were lining up late, half the field was playing one coverage and half was playing another. It was really disappointing.
"I don't have a number (of missed tackles). After the game I said I thought we set a school record. Now I think we set a national record."
Kiffin reported that linebacker LaMarcus Thompson received good news from the training staff after being carted off the field with a neck injury. The Vols coach said Thompson is very sore but that he will be OK, and possibly could return in time for Saturday's game.
He also said defensive back Marsalous Johnson could return from his thumb injury by the Kentucky game.
The Vols did not hold any type of field practice Sunday. Activities were limited to film work and corrections from Saturday's game.
"It's something I've done late in the season, basically the fourth quarter of the season," Kiffin said. "Really this is for our young guys. It's just easier on their bodies not to have to go out at all. It gives them an extra day off to be able to come back for a really physical practice this week."