KNOXVILLE (WVLT) - A week ago, Tennessee was reeling after losing a track meet to California.
Now the Vols can sleep a little easier.
Tennessee overcame a lackluster first-half defensive effort, piling on 22 second-half points en route to a 39-19 victory Saturday in Knoxville.
Arian Foster led the Vols with 127 yards and two touchdowns. Erik Ainge contributed 277 yards and two scores before exiting early as the Vols cruised through the fourth-quarter. Lucas Taylor and Austin Rogers each received for more than 100 yards -- Taylor for 116 and Rogers for 113 and a touchdown -- to lead the Vols' receiving corps.
Tennessee had trouble squelching the Southern Miss offensive attack for much of the first half. The Golden Eagles scored on their first three possessions and led for most of the first two quarters until Erik Ainge hit Josh Briscoe for a 6-yard touchdown to give the Vols a 17-16 halftime lead.
Golden Eagles quarterback Justin Young finished the evening 18-for-36 for 243 yards and a touchdown. Vaunted running back Damien Fletcher was ineffective, gaining only 20 yards on 8 carries.
After allowing 16 first-half points, the Tennessee defense tightened up. The Vols only allowed a Southern Miss field goal the rest of the night, and the offense scored 20 points, thanks to two Foster touchdown runs. The Vols tallied two more points after a Southern Miss punt snap went into the end zone, where punter Britt Barefoot booted it out of play for a safety.
Tennessee now looks ahead to a showdown with Florida Saturday in Gainesville, and it can do so with a win in the books and a wealth of renewed confidence.
A detailed game summary follows.
After Southern Miss fumbled a kickoff return, Daniel Lincoln boomed a 47-yard field goal -- his career long -- to give Tennessee a 37-19 lead with 6:33 left in the game.
Score: Tennessee 37, Southern Miss 19
Arian Foster leapt three yards over the Southern Miss defensive front and into the checkerboards to give Tennessee a 34-19 lead with 8:32 remaining in the game.
The Golden Eagles tried to surprise Tennessee with an onside kick, but the ball went out of bounds and the Vols took over at the Southern Miss 45. From there, the Volunteer running backs took command; Lamarcus Coker caught a screen pass and took it for a first down, then Foster bounded past Southern Miss defenders to the Eagle 3. Foster finished the job, leaping over the defensive front and diminishing Southern Miss's chances for victory.
A 24-yard Southern Miss field goal made the score 27-19 with 12:19 remaining in the game.
After each team went three-and-out, Southern Miss took over inside its own 20. Justin Young led the Eagles on a methodical drive deep inside the Tennessee 10, but Robert Ayers knocked Young for a loss on second down and McCoy drilled Fletcher before he could haul in the ball in third down, so Estes entered the game and made a 24-yard field goal.
Score: Tennessee 27, Southern Miss 19
A 10-yard touchdown run by Arian Foster gave Tennessee a 27-16 lead over Southern Miss with 8:13 remaining in the third quarter.
Southern Miss faced third and one at the Tennessee 44, but running back Damien Fletcher fumbled the football and Jarod Parrish recovered. It was the first turnover of the game for either team.
After a third down conversion, Ainge lobbed a 34-yard pass to Taylor to put the Vols inside the Eagle 10. Arian Foster broke through the Southern Miss line on first and goal and scampered into the end zone for the Volunteers touchdown.
Score: Tennessee 27, Southern MIss 16
A Daniel Lincoln field goal gave Tennessee a 20-16 lead over Southern Miss to open the second half.
On the first drive of the second half, Arian Foster ripped off two big runs to get to the Southern Miss 40. On second and 10, Ainge found Chris Brown, who lumbered for a 17-yard pickup. Tennessee failed to convert on third down, and Lincoln nailed the field goal.
Score: Tennessee 20, Southern Miss 16
An eight-yard Erik Ainge touchdown pass to Lucas Taylor gave Tennessee a 17-16 lead with 41 seconds left in the first half.
On fourth and 7 at the Southern Miss 32, Ainge hit Austin Rogers for a 24-yard pickup.
Score: Tennessee 17, Southern Miss 16
A 38-yard field goal by Daniel Lincoln brought Tennessee within three points, trailing 13-10 late in the first quarter.
Tennessee was in danger of going three-and-out. But on third and 14, Austin Rogers made a lunging, tip-toe catch on the sideline for a 20-yard gain. A pass interference call on the next play brought the ball to the Golden Eagle 40. On third down, Ainge completed another pass to Rogers, this one for 13 yards and another first down. Ainge missed Lucas Taylor on third down, setting up a Daniel Lincoln field goal attempt.
Southern Miss 13, Tennessee 10
A 51-yard Britt Barefoot field goal gave Southern Miss a 13-7 lead with 3:54 remaining in the first quarter.
After a Chad Cunningham punt, Southern Miss didn't hesitate to capitalize on favorable field position. Damien Fletcher took a Young screen pass into Tennessee territory. Two Fletcher runs moved the chains again, this time to the Tennessee 40. Southern Miss was unable to get the first down, but kicker Britt Barefoot nailed a 51-yard field goal to give the Eagles a 13-7 lead.
Score: Southern Miss 13, Tennessee 7
On the first play after a Tennessee touchdown, Southern Miss quarterback Justin Young hit Chris Johnson for a 69-yard touchdown pass. Johnson surged past cornerback Marsalous Johnson, catching the ball in stride at the Tennessee 30 and bounding into the end zone for the score.
Score: Southern Miss 10, Tennessee 7
Erik Ainge hit a wide-open Austin Rogers for a 26-yard touchdown pass to give Tennessee a 7-3 lead over Southern Mississippi on Tennessee's first drive.
Ainge completed six passes on the drive, which took 7 plays and two minutes, 41 seconds.
Tennessee returned the kickoff to the 30, and on the first play of the drive, Ainge hit Lucas Taylor for a 15-yard gain. A leaping catch by Taylor two plays later brought the Vols to the Eagles 30.
Score: Tennessee 7, Southern Miss 3
Southern Miss took a 3-0 lead on its first drive of the game on a 30-yard Justin Estes field goal.
Southern Miss took the ball to start the game. After an initial first-down pickup, Young hit tight end Shawn Nelson for a 30-yard gain down to the Tennessee 15 yard line. But the Vols stopped the Eagles, and Golden Eagles kicker Justin Estes made the field goal to open the scoring.