KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee needed a game like this.
Casey Clausen threw five touchdown passes, three to Chris
Hannon, and Jabari Davis ran for two scores in Tennessee's (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) 59-21 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday.
The Volunteers (8-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) remained in
contention for a trip to the SEC championship game in their most
productive offensive showing this season.
"One down. The next one is Vanderbilt. ... The goals are still
alive," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "I was glad to get
the win and the points."
Clausen was 20-of-33 for 330 yards before he was pulled with 46
seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs (2-8, 1-5), who have one of the worst defenses in
the league, lost their fourth straight game since coach Jackie
Sherrill announced he will retire at the end of the season. The
Vols rolled up a season-high 535 yards of total offense to
Mississippi State's 288.
The Bulldogs have lost seven straight road games and 12 straight
in SEC opponents' stadiums.
Tennessee's defense followed up its strong performance in a 10-6
win at Miami last week with a fumble recovery and two
interceptions, and the special teams blocked a punt.
Tennessee vaulted to seventh in the Bowl Championship Series
standings last week and helped itself in the SEC East division race
with a decisive victory. If the Vols are tied with Georgia and
Florida with two league losses apiece at the end of the season, BCS
and head-to-head competition will be used in a tiebreaker. The Vols
finish the season against Vanderbilt and at Kentucky.
"After Miami, we didn't have big heads. We came out today and
played a hard game," Tennessee linebacker Kevin Burnett said. "We
have to keep our momentum up every week."
The Vols had struggled this season scoring early in games, but
they surpassed their scoring average of 24 points by halftime with
a 28-7 lead.
"We wanted to come out and start fast. We've been talking about
it all year long," Clausen said. "(We) threw the ball downfield,
threw some touchdowns. That's a good thing."
Tennessee ended Mississippi State's chances for a rally early in
the third quarter.
Davis had a 42-yard run to the Bulldogs 44, and, four plays
later, Clausen found Hannon in the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown
pass and a 35-7 lead.
Mississippi State was forced to punt from its 24-yard line on
the next possession, and Tennessee's O.J. Owens blocked Jared
Cook's punt. Troy Fleming recovered the rolling ball at the
Mississippi State 1 for the Vols. Davis followed with his second
touchdown, a 1-yard run.
Mississippi State looked its best on kickoff returns, and the
Bulldogs had plenty of those. Nick Turner had a return for 38
yards, and Fred Reid had a 37-yarder.
Tennessee scored first on Hannon's 18-yard touchdown reception.
Kevin Fant led an eight-play drive, capped by a 19-yard scoring
pass to Justin Jenkins, to tie the game.
But Clausen completed a touchdown pass for 12 yards to Derrick
Tinsley on Tennessee's next series. Clausen also had a 38-yard TD
pass to Mark Jones, who had five catches for 90 yards.
The Vols scored more than 50 points in regulation for the first
time since a 59-20 victory over Kentucky in 2000. Tennessee scored
51 points in a win over Alabama this year, but it took five
Mississippi State scored its second touchdown with 3:43 left and
converted a 2-point play. Holder Joe Judge tossed the ball to
kicker Brent Smith, who lofted it to Nick Signaigo in the end zone.