Saturday, September 5, 2009
No more talking. Kiffin era begins
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
AP Photo/Wade Payne
Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin takes the traditional Vol Walk before Saturday's game against Western Kentucky
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Never mind that it was a glorified scrimmage.
And never mind that Western Kentucky was probably the most outmanned team to come into Neyland Stadium since Louisiana-Monroe limped in here in 2000 and lost 70-3.
The Lane Kiffin era kicked off Saturday with a 63-7 massacre that produced more fireworks over the Tennessee River than were shot off all of last season.
“Yeah, it was Western Kentucky. But to us, that didn’t matter,” said Marsalis Teague, one of three true freshmen to score touchdowns for the Vols. “We didn’t care who the opponent was. We were going to come out and try to take it to them regardless of who we were playing. For us to get out there and do our thing … it just makes you feel great to be a Volunteer.
“Hopefully, we can have a lot more of these days.”
For Kiffin, it was finally a chance to put a product on the field after nine months of shaking it up off the field in the SEC.
It’s a product –- regardless of how helpless the Hilltoppers were for most of the day –- that bodes well for the future of Tennessee’s program, especially when you consider how many fresh faces were on the field and making plays.
Teague led the Vols in receiving with six catches for 86 yards. He was one of 10 Tennessee players to catch passes.
Freshman tailback Bryce Brown rushed for 104 yards on 11 carries. He was one of two Tennessee players to crack the 100-yard mark. Senior Montario Hardesty, looking as healthy and explosive as ever, had a career-high 160 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Tennessee finished with 380 rushing yards, its most in a game since rolling up 406 yards on the ground in 1994 against Vanderbilt.
“This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Coach Kiffin told us all that if we came here, we were going to get a chance to play,” said Brown, who scored the first of the Vols’ nine touchdowns on a 2-yard run. “Everybody showed up and did what they do.”
Kiffin said he never allowed himself to get caught up in the moment Saturday. It was tempting at times, and he appreciates how historic the whole day was.
But his focus was his football team, nothing less and nothing more.
“I really had to make sure that I did not go up and down today, because that’s what I talked about with our team a long time last night – dealing with the emotions of a wonderful scene like the Vol Walk, a wonderful event like running through the ‘T’ and playing in front of 100,000 people (actually 98,761),” Kiffin said.
“That’s to our advantage in a lot of ways, but we have to manage that with our players. So if I’m out of whack and I’m up and down, they’re going to respond to that. So I have to make sure I stayed really even throughout the day.”
Those players who were around for the misery of last season said Saturday’s explosion has been a long time coming.
Take senior defensive tackle Wes Brown, who’s playing on aching knees and loving every minute of this new lease on his football life.
“The thing that people need to realize is that coach Kiffin is a firm believer in us,” Brown said. “He wasn’t just going off and running off at his mouth (during the offseason) just to be doing it. He really believes in, and that filters down to everybody.
“We’re not what happened last year. We’re better than that. We’ve got a chip on our shoulder, and we’ve got to keep that chip on our shoulder all year.”
Jonathan Crompton's five touchdown passes highlighted the day, that and the confidence he played with.
But it goes deeper than just Crompton's confidence.
"Jonathan's confidence is a big factor, but everybody out there's on the same page. That's an even bigger factor" junior tight end Luke Stocker said. "Coaches, players, all 11 guys on the field ... everybody knows what everybody's doing.
"We're playing together as a team, and that's the main thing."