SEC: Hilltoppers-Vols 090509

No more talking. Kiffin era begins

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
7:03
PM ET

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.”

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Crompton comes back swinging

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
6:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- There hasn’t been a more maligned football player at Tennessee than Jonathan Crompton in a long time.
AP Photo/Wade Payne
Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton silenced his critics on Saturday.

He’s been mocked by fans, ripped apart in the media and even received death threats last season.

On Saturday, he looked like a Heisman Trophy contender.

OK, maybe that’s going a bit far considering he was playing against Western Kentucky, which never got close enough to breathe on him in Tennessee’s 63-7 romp to kick off the Lane Kiffin era.

But given the hell Crompton has gone through on Rocky Top, he as much as anybody deserved a five-touchdown performance and the kind of debut to his senior season that not even the most optimistic Tennessee fan could have envisioned.

While Kiffin might not have predicted five touchdown passes, he’s anything but surprised to see Crompton having success. It’s obvious that Crompton is far more comfortable in Kiffin’s pro-style offense than he ever was at any point last season.

“This is a quarterback and an offensive line that has been torn apart for a while now,” said Kiffin, who maintained before the game that he thinks Crompton has a chance to be taken in the NFL draft next April. “To see Jonathan throw for five touchdown passes, more than he threw all of last year combined, was really good for him. I’ve been trying to tell everybody who will listen that the guy is as prepared as anybody.

“He’s done a great job. He’s had a great offseason. He’s been a great leader. I think that showed today. He had two interceptions that were tipped balls and weren’t his fault. I thought he played extremely well.”

Crompton, who finished 21-of-28 for 233 yards, shrugged off any questions about what all he’s endured at Tennessee.

“I don’t even think about last year,” Crompton said. “Last year’s over. Nobody thinks about it. We just think about now and the future.”

Tight end Luke Stocker, who caught two of Crompton’s touchdown passes, said the version of Crompton he saw Saturday was the same one he’s seen all preseason.

“You can just feel Jonathan’s confidence. It’s unbelievable right now, and that’s exactly how you want to feel about your quarterback,” Stocker said.

Final: Tennessee 63, W. Kentucky 7

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
3:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Lane Kiffin era at Tennessee kicked off Saturday with one of the most one-sided beatings you're going to see in college football. Western Kentucky never had a prayer, and Tennessee was a team determined to get that sour taste from last season completely out of its mouth.

The Vols did that with a 63-7 rout of the Hilltoppers that featured a five-touchdown performance by quarterback Jonathan Crompton and saw three different freshmen score touchdowns -- Bryce Brown, Marsalis Teague and David Oku.

Regardless of who you're playing against, any time you rush for 380 yards, which the Vols did, you're doing something right in the running game. Montario Hardesty and Brown both rushed for more than 100 yards.

And Monte Kiffin's defense? The Vols were equally dominant on that side of the ball and look to be even better up front than they were a year ago. Western Kentucky only had one first down at the half.

Now the real season begins next week against UCLA.

Crompton for Heisman

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
3:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Jonathan Crompton's day is over. He has given way to backup Nick Stephens, but not before throwing five touchdown passes.

No, that's not a typo. Five touchdown passes.

He only threw four touchdown passes all of last season.

Crompton will be the first one to tell you that it's not going to be this easy the rest of the year. Not even close. Western Kentucky was woefully out-manned and didn't put up much of a challenge.

Nonetheless, Crompton played within himself, and for the most part, took what the defense gave him. He did have two tipped passes that were intercepted, but got off to the kind of start to the season that should serve him well heading into next week's UCLA game.

And with all he's been through at Tennessee, he deserved a game like this.

Now, if he can only get the kind of pass protection he got from the Tennessee offensive line the rest of the season. The Hilltoppers never got near him.

Cobb leads balanced Kentucky effort

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
2:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


All the usual suspects are getting involved for Kentucky, which is turning Cincinnati a distinctive shade of blue.

I thought the Wildcats would win this one going away, but I don’t think anybody saw a complete domination like this. Kentucky leads Miami (Ohio) 42-0 in the fourth quarter and has gotten a pair of touchdown passes from Mike Hartline, an interception return for a touchdown by Trevard Lindley and an all-around performance by Randall Cobb.

Cobb has caught a touchdown pass and rushed for a touchdown. He’s also made some key blocks. The guy does it all and ranks right up there among the most complete offensive players in the league.

Vols lose shutout bid

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
2:47
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Western Kentucky's touchdown late in the third quarter ended Tennessee's shutout bid. The Vols, leading 35-7, had not shut out an opponent since beating Vanderbilt 48-0 in 2003. Their last shutout in a season opener was 1993 against Louisiana Tech, a 50-0 romp.

Tennessee's Thompson breaks out

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
2:42
PM ET


Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Rico McCoy is the Tennessee linebacker who's received most of the publicity, but the Vols' best linebacker Saturday against Western Kentucky has been junior LaMarcus Thompson. He's been all over the field, making several tackles for loss and forcing the fumble in the second quarter that broke the game open for the Vols.

No sellout for the Vols

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
2:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Despite all the excitement surrounding Lane Kiffin's debut at Tennessee, the Vols didn't sell out their opener against Western Kentucky.

The crowd was announced at 98,761, which is the first time since the North upper deck expansion at Neyland Stadium in 1996 that the Vols have opened the season at home and not topped the 100,000 mark.

It's worth noting that the capacity in the stadium has dropped in recent years, because of the addition of club seating, from 104,079 to its current capacity of just over 101,000.

Halftime analysis: Tenn. 28, W. Ke

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
2:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- After a slow start, Tennessee shook loose for a 28-0 halftime lead over Western Kentucky. Here's a quick analysis:

Turning point: The Vols had just taken a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes of the second quarter when linebacker LaMarcus Thompson shot through the line and leveled Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey 8 yards deep in the backfield, forcing a fumble. Thompson recovered at the Hilltoppers' 17-yard line, and the Vols scored on the next play. The rout was on from there.

Stat of the game: Tennessee senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who threw four touchdown passes all of last season, has already thrown three today. After throwing an interception on his third pass attempt, he came back to hit Luke Stocker on a 17-yard scoring pass, Quintin Hancock on a 9-yard scoring pass and Brandon Warren on a 4-yard scoring pass.

What Western Kentucky needs to do: Run the ball and get out of here alive. This is a total mismatch. The Hilltoppers have 9 yards of offense at the half and have been lucky to get the snap off before Tennessee defenders are swarming in the backfield.

Hardesty already over 100 yards

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
1:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Here’s what has to be music to the ears of those Tennessee fans yearning for a potent running game: Senior tailback Montario Hardesty has already rushed for 104 yards with a few seconds to play in the first half.

His previous career high was 78 yards. He looks healthy, quick through the hole and is delivering the blow to the defense.

Nothing defensive about this defense

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
1:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- We knew this Tennessee defense had a chance to be pretty good.

But the Vols have been smothering to this point. Granted, much of their dominance is due to the fact that Western Kentucky is awful on offense.

Still, here we are with less than 10 minutes to play in the second quarter, and Western Kentucky has run 12 plays for a total of minus-13 yards.

Defensive end Chris Walker was a star in the spring and preseason for the Vols. It looks like he's going to be a star this season, too. He's a blur getting to the quarterback. His partner on the other side, Gerald Williams, gives the the Vols the kind of pass-rushing tandem they haven't had in a while.

Finding something on the ground

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
1:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – What took so long?

The Vols, after turning the ball over twice and trying to get Jonathan Crompton going throwing the ball, figured out that they might be able to run the ball against Western Kentucky.

Tennessee bullied its way to an 81-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead and did just about all of its damage on the ground.

Crompton’s third pass of the game was tipped and intercepted by Western Kentucky. A few possessions later, Crompton threw a quick toss to Montario Hardesty, who was hit about the time he turned and fumbled.

All the big names in the house

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
1:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The turnout has been diverse, to say the least, for Lane Kiffin’s first game at Tennessee.

Former head coaches Phillip Fulmer and John Majors were both scheduled to watch the game from luxury suites. For the record, that would be different luxury suites.

Peyton Manning was also in the house, as Tennessee dedicated the Peyton Manning locker room before the game. Manning pledged $1 million to help renovate the Vols’ football facilities.

Also, George Mooney, who turns 90 in January, made the trip from his home in the West Indies. Mooney was the Vols’ play-by-play announcer before John Ward. Mooney first broadcast Tennessee games in 1952.

And then there’s Super Fan Earl Brown, who’s seen 154 straight Tennessee games without missing one. Brown travels extensively with his job and has been known to make it back from business trips outside the country just to see the Vols play.

Moore returns early for Tennessee

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
12:36
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Receiver Denarius Moore is in the game, which is a nice surprise for the Vols.

Moore broke his foot during offseason workouts, and it was thought at the time that he could miss the first two or three weeks of the season. But his recovery has been quicker than expected, and he's playing today for the Vols. Moore is one of the better deep threats on the team.

No-hands Nu'Keese

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
12:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Lane Kiffin was a little worried prior to the game about freshman Nu'Keese Richardson putting the ball on the ground.

Now we know why.

Richardson was back deep on the first punt of the game and made two mistakes. First, he didn't catch the punt in the air and let it drop. Then he didn't handle it cleanly and lost big yardage when he scrambled back to recover it.

Sure enough, Dennis Rogan was back deep for the Vols on the second punt.

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