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Tennessee blows by Mississippi State

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | Forget the boos. The new chant of Tennessee fans is "Berry."

Eric Berry shattered a 60-year-old Southeastern Conference record with a 72-yard interception return, and the Volunteers avoided their worst league start in two decades with a 34-3 win over Mississippi State on Saturday night.

"I've never seen anybody like Eric Berry," coach Phillip Fulmer said.

Berry picked off a pass by Tyson Lee with 10:37 left in the fourth quarter and ran it back for a touchdown to give the Volunteers (3-4, 1-3 SEC) a 20-3 lead as fans erupted in cheers of "Berry, Berry."

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.

He also led the Tennessee with 10 tackles, a season high for him, and recorded his second career sack.

"The crowd chanting my name — that's like a dream. I had to pinch myself in the game to see if it was really happening," Berry said."

Tennessee fans have had plenty to boo this season as the Volunteers got off to their worst start under Fulmer. The 102,038-capacity Neyland Stadium had an announced attendance of 98,239 and even fewer than that in the stands.

The Berry interception ignited both the crowd and the team while sending Mississippi State reeling.

"When you play a talented team like Tennessee, you can't turn the ball over and expect to win," Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said. "I thought we had a chance to win."

The teams entered the game as the SEC's worst and remained that way.

Kentucky's win over Arkansas kept the Volunteers at the bottom of the East Division, and Mississippi State sits tied with Mississippi and Arkansas for last in the West Division.

The two teams also entered the game nearly identical in many statistical categories, including total offense, scoring offense and total defense.

But the Volunteers outplayed the Bulldogs, picking up 275 yards of 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.

"It only takes one play to turn the whole game and the whole season around for us," Tennessee defensive end Wes Brown said.

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 less than 3 minutes left.

Creer finished with 68 yards on 17 carries. Nick Stephens went 10-for-20 for 136 yards and a touchdown for the Volunteers.

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 on Daniel Lincoln field goals of 36 and 28 yards when Stephens failed to connect with his receivers. Lincoln also missed 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. Lee finished 12-for-23 for 114 yards and three interceptions.

"It comes down to us executing the things we are doing," Croom said. "I'm not looking to change anything. We've just got to get better at the things we do. I know what we are doing is sound."

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 pile one play later to give Tennessee a 13-3 lead with 10 minutes in the third quarter.

Tennessee was penalized only once for 8 yards.

"Penalties and plays in the kicking game and turnovers can be your worst enemy in football, and we didn't have any of those things happen to us, but yet played a very aggressive form of offense and defense, which is more like Tennessee football," Fulmer said.