The Nick Stephens era in Knoxville began yesterday with an unimpressive win over Northern Illinois. Tennessee was a two-touchdown favorite against the mediocre NIU squad, but settled for a 13-9 win.
NIU scored first, after a Tennessee fumble put them at midfied and a roughing-the-passer call moved NIU even closer to pay dirt. After the Huskies drive stalled on the Vols' 10, NIU kicker Mike Salerno nailed a 25-yard field goal to give the Huskies a 3-0 lead.
Tennessee's Eric Berry ran an interception back to the NIU 16, and after a sickly three-and-out, Tennessee tied the game with a Daniel Lincoln field goal. Who would have thought these two teams would be tied at the half?
One can only imagine what Phil Fulmer had to say in the locker room at halftime, but, whatever it was, it worked—it didn't work well, but it worked.
Tennessee scored on another Lincoln field goal early in the third. Using the momentum they had gained, the Vols got aggressive and found the end zone on the first play of their ensuing possession, extending their lead to 10 points.
The Huskies refused to give up, and they nailed two more field goals in a futile attempt to rally late in the game. Tennessee benefited greatly from the Huskies' seven penalties in the second half. The Hukies' lack of discipline in a close game crippled their own drives and furthered Tennessee's, giving the Vols a win that they didn't deserve.
While there were many shocking games this weekend, none was more shocking than Tennessee's embarrassing win over NIU. Nick Stephens looked similar to Jonathan Crompton, and his numbers were close to the same.
Neither Tennessee quarterback appears to be able to manage the offense. Was the one bright spot allowing only 194 yards? NIU's nine points were in large part due to Tennessee's turnovers.
The Vols are experiencing offensive anemia, which seems to be becoming a common occurrence in the SEC, affecting Auburn and Arkansas, as well. The Vols' sickly offense managed only 225 yards against a Husky defense that allows an average of 334 yards per game.
If the Vols are to be successful they need a major overhaul on offense, starting with a quarterback who can manage the game and run the offense.