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Vols close second half strong

Tennessee sophomore A.J. Johnson leaps over the Vols' offensive line and into the end zone for the first touchdown of Saturday night's game with Akron at Neyland Stadium.
Published: 4:26 PM, 09/25/2012 Last updated: 4:30 PM, 09/25/2012

Author: Seth Butler
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

KNOXVILLE-A familiar scene played out at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.

A team battled for over a half, only to see their opponent pull away in the fourth quarter in a quickly emptying stadium.

Only this time, Tennessee was the team pulling away from their opponent.

The Vols survived a strong scare from Akron on Saturday night, holding off a Zips chance to tie the game late in the third period and then pulling away over the final 15 minutes of the game.

"Well, it was a tough game, and I knew it would be," third-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said.

"They cause a lot of problems with our offense, but the disappointing part was the turnovers early in the game.

"We spotted them 10 points on turnovers, but I was real proud of the team in the second half," Dooley said. "They came out and dominated the second half 24-3, so that's a good step for the team."

Even given the competition difference between Akron, of the Mid-American Conference, and that Tennessee will see in their next four games - all against Top 25 ranked SEC opponents - Dooley said he was pleased that his team was able to overcome the adversity presented to them.

Tennessee was a 35-point favorite, which found itself in a one-possession game until just before the midway point of the fourth quarter.

"What I'm proud of is how we had so many things go wrong in the game and we came out and dominated in the second half," Dooley said. "Everybody has been beating this team up for the second half, but so far we've played four games and we've had three outstanding second halves and one outstanding third quarter."

Dooley's message centered around the public response from the Vols' second half collapse in their September 15 loss to Florida. The loss was the latest installment in a chapter of close games turned into second half blowouts under Dooley's guidance.

"I keep telling the team `it's not who you are, it's what you did'," Dooley said. "We screwed it up (against Florida) but that doesn't mean it's who you are."

Despite the way the Vols have folded in the second half over the last two years, there was a relative peace among the team. Akron stayed within one possession of the Vols, until Eric Gordon intercepted an Akron pass and quarterback Tyler Bray found Justin Hunter for a 19-yard touchdown pass on the next play to put the game out of reach with 9:02 remaining in the game.

Hunter's score put the Vols up by a two-possession margin for the first time in the game.

"They were really calm at half time, there wasn't any panic," Dooley said. "They kept executing in the third quarter, it wasn't easy. The defense made some good stops and we started scoring."

Bray agreed that the Vols knew what they were doing was working, but they just weren't able to finish off drives. Tennessee finished 8-of-8 in red-zone scoring chances, but had to settle for four field goals by walk-on kicker Derrick Brodus.

"We were putting together drives, the defense was making stops, but we just couldn't finish," Bray said. "We knew we weren't going to do that all night and eventually (Akron) was going to get tired.

"I think we ran 60 plays in the first half, we knew they were going to get tired and they were going to wear down and that's what happened," Bray said.

COMING TOGETHER AS A TEAM: The adversity dealt to the Vols over their four quarter stretch of football headed into Saturday night's second half against Akron only helped to bring the team

Tennessee had given up 51 points in that four quarter stretch and found it tied with an opponent that had lost 21 of its last 24 games entering Saturday night's game.

The Vols confidently rallied around each other in the second half, slowly taking control of the game
for their 21-point victory.

"The second half I believe we just came together better as a team," Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson said. "The defense and offense were working more efficient."

The defensive play did step up in the second half, holding a potent Akron offense to only a field goal with 14:50 to play in the game, that cut the Vols lead to 30-26. While Akron did score 10 points off of Tennessee turnovers, the Vols allowed a defensive bust on a 70-yard touchdown run by Quentin Hines just 2:14 before halftime that briefly gave the Zips the lead.

"I wasn't concerned at all (at halftime), because we were playing pretty good defense," Vols defensive back Prentiss Waggner said. "We just had to lift up the offense.

"Our offense is an explosive offense, so once they got to clicking, we just continued to play good defense, so I knew that we were going to be pretty good," Waggner said.

CUTTING OUT THE MISTAKES: Four turnovers over the past two games is an alarming number for the Vols headed into the brutal stretch run of their next four games.

All four turnovers led to points for Tennessee opponents and Derek Dooley knows that those mistakes could prove fatal during any of the next four games for his squad.

He reiterated that point to his team on Saturday night.

"(Dooley) told us that we cannot keep shooting ourselves in the foot and that we have to eliminate the mistakes and go out and be 100 percent and be on the same page," Tennessee offensive lineman James Stone said.

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