Posted: Sunday, October 19th 2008 at 12:35am
Tennessee tops Miss. State, 34-3
By The Associated Press
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Eric Berry shattered a 60-year old Southeastern Conference record with a 72-yard interception return, and Tennessee avoided its worst league start in two decades with a 34-3 win over Mississippi State on Saturday night.
Berry picked off a pass by Tyson Lee with 10:37 left in the fourth quarter and ran it back for a touchdown to put the Vols (3-4, 1-3 SEC) up 20-3.
With the return the sophomore became the SEC's career interception return leader with 397 yards, surpassing Mississippi's Bobby Wilson, who amassed 379 between 1946 and 1949.
The play ignited a Tennessee team that was off to its worst start under coach Phillip Fulmer and sent Mississippi State (2-5, 1-3) reeling further.
The teams entered the game nearly identical in many statistical categories, including total offense, scoring offense and total defense.
But the Vols outplayed the Bulldogs, picking up 275 yards on offense compared to Mississippi State's 189 and gaining 101 interception return yards.
Tennessee had little problem scoring after Berry's interception. Demetrice Morley picked off Lee a minute and a half later and ran 32 yards for a touchdown.
Mississippi State went three-and-out, and Tennessee responded by running Lennon Creer on every down of a 12-play, 51-drive. He scored on a 1-yard run to put Tennessee up 34-3 with just under 3 minutes left.
Creer finished with 68 yards on 17 carries.
The SEC's two lowest scoring teams lived up to the billing early, staying out of the end zone in the first half.
Two long Tennessee drives ended with Daniel Lincoln field goals of 36 and 28 yards when Nick Stephens failed to connect with his receivers. Lincoln also missed one from 34 yards.
Mississippi State's lone score came on a 10-play, 44-yard drive highlighted by a 12-yard pass from Lee to Henderson on third-and-11. Adam Carlson hit a 43-yard field goal to tie the game at 3 with 6:34 in the second quarter.
Anthony Dixon, who gained 107 yards a week earlier in the Bulldogs' upset of Vanderbilt, was held to only 46 on 15 carries.
Austin Rogers appeared to reach the end zone on a 21-yard pass from Stephens on third-and-10, but officials ruled him down inside the 1 on review.
Montario Hardesty flipped over the goal line pile one play later to give Tennessee a 13-3 lead with 10 minutes in the third quarter.
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