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KNOXVILLE, Tennessee -- Tennessee usually plays its best in November. But if this was any indication, this November may be different.
Casey Clausen threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hannon early in the fourth quarter as No. 22 Tennessee struggled to a 23-6 victory over Duke. Coming off a thrilling victory in five overtimes at Alabama, the Volunteers (6-2) were supposed to be enjoying a break in their schedule against a Duke team that was playing its second game under interim coach Ted Roof, who replaced the fired Carl Franks. But for a while, it looked as though the Volunteers could be on their way to an embarrassing loss. They only held a 9-6 lead after three quarters before pulling away over the final 15 minutes.
Clausen's touchdown pass to Hannon with 11:10 remaining gave the Volunteers a 16-6 lead. Just under seven minutes later, Gerald Riggs provided some more breathing room with a 12-yard touchdown run as Tennessee improved to 69-4 in November since 1985.
The Volunteers also may have been caught looking ahead to next week's showdown at No. 2 Miami. "I was glad to get a win against a determined Duke team," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. "This was a dangerous sandwich game between a five-overtime affair with Alabama and a big game with Miami next week."
Brent Garber and Matt Brooks kicked field goals for Duke (2-7), which lost its sixth straight game following a 2-1 start. Having not beaten a ranked team since defeating then-No. 23 Virginia in 1994, the Blue Devils trailed just 9-6 and had a 1st-and-goal with under four minutes left in the third quarter. But the Blue Devils were unable to punch the ball into the end zone and Brooks hooked a 34-yard field goal to the left.
In the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils committed two more mistakes that the Volunteers were able to convert into points. Less than two minutes into the quarter, Jamin Pastore fumbled a punt and Corey Larkins recovered for the Volunteers at the Blue Devils 37. Six plays later, Clausen connected with Hannon on a four-yard touchdown pass. Clausen completed 16-of-27 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. "Initially, it was a running play, and Casey checked it off because he saw something in the middle," Hannon said. "When he gave me the signal, I looked in the middle and saw it was a good call. When the ball was in the air, I went to get it."
Clausen, who completed 16-of-27 passes for 208 yards, won his 30th game as a starter. Peyton Manning is the only other quarterback in Vols history with at least 30 wins. The Blue Devils squandered another chance to get closer when Brooks missed a 37-yard field goal with 6:13 remaining. Less than two minutes later, Riggs scored on 12-yard run to give the Volunteers a 23-6 lead. A third-stringer, Riggs carried five times for 31 yards.
"We made the mistakes at the end and they took advantage," Roof said. "Give them credit. They're well-coached. The game unfolded like we needed it to."
Jabari Davis carried the Volunteers' ground game, gaining a career-high 113 yards on 17 carries. "Duke is a good team, but I think if Tennessee plays Tennessee football, it wouldn't be a competition," Davis said.
In order to try to stay in the game, the Blue Devils also relied on their running game. Chris Douglas carried 29 times for 128 yards and Cedric Dargan gained 54 yards on 13 attempts. Chris Dapolito and Adam Smith rotated at quarterback for the Blue Devils. Dapolito went 7-of-13 for 76 yards while Smith was just 4-of-7 for 35 yards.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Volunteers broke on top on James Wilhoit's 45-yard field goal with 13:01 to go before intermission. But the Blue Devils answered and tied the contest on Brent Garber's 54-yard field goal. Wilhoit gave the Vols the lead back with a 38-yard field goal, but Brooks connected from 37 yards as time expired in the half, tying the contest at 6-6.