NORMAN, Oklahoma — Tennessee grew up on Saturday night.
The Volunteers lost 34-10 at No. 4 Oklahoma, but they battled in the second half and put some pressure on the Sooners.
"I see progress every day," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "Unfortunately, sometimes the progress isn't measured in a victory. We still have a long way to go in understanding what it takes in certain stages of the game to play winning football. Our kids are invested. There are a lot of newcomers that made their first trip to play the No. 4 team in the country in a hostile environment. We have to move on."
Justin Worley passed for 201 yards for Tennessee, but he completed just 21 of 44 passes, was sacked five times, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.
Still, there were times in the second half where the Volunteers had the Sooners on the ropes. Tennessee got the ball deep into Oklahoma territory early in the fourth quarter, but Julian Wilson intercepted a pass that was deflected by linebacker Jordan Evans and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown to put the Sooners up 34-10 with 10:57 to play.
"We were right there," Worley said. "We were a couple of passes from it being a 27-24 ballgame. I knew I was going to be getting hit and I knew I had to sit in there. Our receivers were still getting open, and it was my job to deliver the football."
Trevor Knight passed for 308 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score to help No. 4 Oklahoma defeat Tennessee 34-10 on Saturday night.
A game that looked like it might get out of hand got competitive at times in the second half.
In the early minutes of the third quarter, Knight found Durron Neal for 43 yards to move the Sooners into the red zone, then Knight kept it himself for a 5-yard touchdown run that pushed Oklahoma's lead to 27-7.
Tennessee got some hope after recovering a fumbled punt at the Oklahoma 30. A facemask penalty moved the ball to the Oklahoma 21, but the Volunteers got just a field goal out of it, a 31-yarder by Aaron Medley to trim Oklahoma's lead to 27-10 with 2:29 remaining in the third quarter.
Hurd busted loose for 43 yards to put Tennessee in business again, but Zack Sanchez intercepted Worley in the end zone to end the threat. It was Sanchez's third interception of the season and fifth in his past six games.
Oklahoma dominated early. After the Sooners took a 3-0 lead, Tennessee moved across midfield before Oklahoma safety Quentin Hayes hit Worley from behind, forced a fumble and then recovered it. Knight connected with Ford out of the backfield for a 23-yard touchdown that put the Sooners up 10-0. Michael Hunnicutt's second short field goal increased the Sooners' lead to 13-0.
Tennessee finally got on the board after catching a break. Worley was sacked on third down, but Oklahoma was called for an offside penalty, and Worley took advantage by connecting with Hurd for a 30-yard gain. Later in the drive, Worley found Smith for a 40-yard touchdown pass to cut Oklahoma's lead to 13-7 in the second quarter.
Tennessee had a chance to tighten the game further or take the lead on its next possession, but the Sooners held. Oklahoma turned the momentum on the ensuing drive when Ford broke loose for an 11-yard touchdown run to push the Sooners' lead to 20-7 late in the first half.
Tennessee's solid play in the second half was a step in the right direction, but the Volunteers weren't satisfied.
"There's a lot of guys in that room that are hurting," Jones said. "I told them their hurt level is a direct correlation to their investment level. We have a lot of individuals on this team that are investing in it a lot. We knew there were going to be good days and bad days with this team. We just have to keep grinding."
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