Vols' offensive barrage leads blowout win of La.-Lafayette
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee put on quite a homecoming show for the fans at Neyland Stadium -- just not as many fans as usually pack the place.
The Volunteers' 59-7 victory against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday was their most lopsided in seven years, but it came in front of the smallest home crowd for a Tennessee game in more than a decade.
The Vols drew 96,197, the fewest since Neyland Stadium, the fourth largest in the country, expanded from a capacity of 91,902 after the 1995 season. The stadium's capacity is now 102,038. Tennessee was averaging 105,423 in what's been and up-and-down season for the Vols, who are still in contention for a Southeastern Conference title.
Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said fans of the Ragin' Cajuns (1-8) only used about 300 or 400 of their allotted tickets, far fewer than most opposing teams sell, and Tennessee students failed to fill their side of the stands.
"It's a nonconference game against a one-win team sandwiched between SEC games," Hamilton said. "I'd focus on the fact that more than 96,000 came today. That's a testament to our great fans."
Hamilton noted that only Michigan or Penn State would have had larger crowds than Tennessee on Saturday.
The 24th-ranked Vols (6-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) didn't seem to notice to empty seats, or if they did, they didn't care.
"It's a confidence builder anytime you can put a lot of points on the board like that," tailback Arian Foster said. "We have three big games left, and everybody knows we control our own destiny."
The students who opted to party in celebration of homecoming instead of attend the game missed a season-high 273-yard running game and touchdowns on Antonio Reynolds' 70-yard interception return and a 20-yard blocked punt return by Antonio Wardlow.
After being criticized for giving up on the run early in their three losses, Tennessee coaches spread out the carries against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Foster and Lennon Creer both ran for touchdowns. Foster finished with 100 yards on 20 carries, propelling him just past the 2,000-yard career mark. He is the 12th Tennessee tailback to surpass that mark.
Creer finished with 109 yards on seven carries, and Montario Hardesty added 45 yards on nine runs.
The Vols also had success passing. Quintin Hancock caught a 5-yard pass from Erik Ainge with 7:59 in the third quarter. Ainge finished 16-for-23 for 125 yards. Daniel Lincoln kicked a 24-yard field goal.
"A game like that, we were clicking on all cylinders," Ainge said. "We put a whole game together, and that's what we were looking to do."
The win gave the Vols the chance to work some reserve players in preparation for their final stretch of SEC play.
Tennessee must close out the season with wins over Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky to play in the SEC championship.
Backup quarterback Jonathan Crompton threw his first TD pass of the season, a 49-yarder to Kenny O'Neal with 11:24 in the fourth after coaches decided to rest Ainge. Gerald Jones, a reserve wide receiver who played a few snaps at quarterback, ran 12 yards for a touchdown.
"They've got great speed, one of the best quarterbacks in the country and those running backs run hard," Louisiana-Lafayette coach Rickey Bustle said.
The Ragin' Cajuns easily drove down the field several times, but struggled getting into the end zone. Michael Desormeaux threw an interception in Tennessee territory and Drew Edmiston came up short on a 49-yard field goal attempt.
"They are a good defense, and you can't make mistakes, and we did," Desormeaux said.
Louisiana-Lafayette's only touchdown came after a 69-yard drive that took less than two minutes. Tyrell Fenroy ran 21 yards for the score early in the third quarter.
"South Carolina scored 21 (in the second half) last week," Foster said. "And when Louisiana-Lafayette scored to start the second half, we said it won't happen again."
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