Play early, play often. That is what Tennessee freshmen and Tennessee recruits should take from the Vols' opening contest of the 2009 season. Tennessee's true freshmen accounted for 154 rushing yards and three TDs on the ground, 125 receiving yards and one score through the air, and four total kick returns for 40 yards.
Freshman Marsalis Teague led the team with six receptions for 86 yards and a score.
Though Teague was the only true freshman to earn a start, nine other first-year Vols made their UT debuts. That group included Darren Myles Jr., Janzen Jackson, Nu'Keese Richardson, Bryce Brown, Mike Edwards, David Oku, Greg King, Zach Rogers, and Chase Nelson.
The coaching staff’s mantra of the “best” will play held true as well, as six non-freshmen made their first career starts on Saturday. Offensive players making their first start were center Cody Sullins and right tackle Jarrod Shaw.
As exciting as the new players were, it’s what the new players were able to do on the field and on the scoreboard that was so impressive. The Vols racked up 657 total yards of offense while holding the Hilltoppers to 83 total yards.
Senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton completed 21-of-28 passes for 233 yards and five touchdowns. His 21 completions and five TD passes were career highs.
To put into perspective the total turnaround, Crompton’s five touchdowns on Saturday were one more than he threw for all of last season. Crompton had two interceptions on Saturday, both on tipped passes.
Senior tailback Montario Hardesty eclipsed his previous career high for rushing yards less than 20 minutes into the game on nine carries. His previous career high was 78 yards on 16 carries vs. Georgia in 2007.
Hardesty finished with 160 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown. His third quarter touchdown came on a 43-yard run, which tied for his career long run as well.
Senior wide receiver Quintin Hancock notched a career high for receiving yards with 65 yards on five catches. The five catches were a career high as well.
Tennessee's 63 points was the Vols' highest point total since Nov. 11, 2000 vs. Arkansas (63 points). The Vols scored 70 points on Sept. 23 of the same season vs. Louisiana-Monroe.
Tennessee’s running game totaled 380 yards on Saturday. Tennessee last rushed for 300 yards in a game on Sept. 25, 2004 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette (347). The Vols last gained 657 total yards at Kentucky in 1997 (695 yards).
While those offensive numbers are impressive, the Vols had to overcome a sloppy start in the first quarter to compile them. The score after the first frame was 0-0 and the Vols, who did not punt in the game for the first time since the Air Force game in 2006, had drives end by fumble and interception in the first quarter.
After the first quarter, the Vols put the ball into the end zone on four consecutive drives. After that, the Vols held the ball until end the first half, turned the ball over on downs with the first possession of the second half, threw an interception on the next possession, and then scored touchdowns on five consecutive drives, leading to the final play of the game, which ended on the Western Kentucky six-yard line.
While the offense played for three quarters, the defense took only one drive off on Saturday. The lone scoring drive for Western Kentucky came with several reserve players on the field. The drive accounted for 66 of the Hilltoppers’ 83 total yards on the day.
Tennessee held the Hilltoppers without an offensive first down for the entire opening half. WKU only moved the chains once, and that came on a roughing the passer penalty by UT defensive tackle Dan Williams.
The Hilltoppers managed just nine yards of total offense and lost a total of 16 yards rushing in the first half. WKU did not gain a first down by way of an offensive play until the 5:58 mark of the third quarter.
The Vols posted 12 tackles for loss (69 yards) and five sacks.
Junior Brent Vinson posted his third career interception in the fourth quarter off WKU's Kawaun Jakes.
Junior Eric Berry saw limited playing time in the second half and Western Kentucky’s offense hardly looked his way after he almost took the second offensive play of the game to the end zone after a pass break up. Berry finished the game with three tackles and that pass break up.
Tennessee scored nine touchdowns on Saturday. In all of the 2008 season, the Vols totaled 26 touchdowns.
Tennessee’s first-year head coach Lane Kiffin summed the day up best.
"That does not surprise me, how these numbers are,'' Kiffin said.”That's the way we expect to play.
"I never said how many games we're going to win. I said we're going to play physical and we're going to play smart.
"You saw that (Saturday).''
Indeed you did.
The Blazer Chronicles will be back later in the week with the UCLA preview. Until then, as always you can see more from the Blazer Chronicles by clicking Blazer Chronicles. Don’t forget to tell your friends, tell your enemies and Go Vols!