Dave Hooker's post-game audio
- Stephens delivers long touchdown
- Report card: Tennessee vs. Northern Illinois
- Defense carries weight again
- Stephens shows teammates he can get it done
- Hamilton suggested change at QB
- Huskies left it all on the field, Kill says
- Adams: QB switch does not change ailing offense
- Watching with Ward: The Game Day blog
Tennessee Stat Book
Northern Illinois Huskies
If Saturday night at Neyland Stadium proved anything it's that Tennessee's offensive struggles run more than quarterback deep.
Nick Stephens got a win in his first start at quarterback, but that wasn't exactly a juggernaut he was directing in a 13-9 victory over Northern Illinois.
At least Stephens pulled the trigger on one big-play touchdown and that was enough.
When Denarius Moore raced into the end zone in the third quarter with a 52-yard touchdown catch it would be the game's only touchdown.
And a crowd announced at 99,539 - based on tickets sold, not actual attendance - couldn't breathe easy until a helter-skelter, hot-potato final desperation play by the Huskies was foiled as time expired.
"We'll take the win,'' said head coach Phillip Fulmer. "We've been on the short end of a couple like that.''
That would be at UCLA to open the season and at Auburn last week.
A 16-point favorite, Tennessee (2-3) wasn't supposed to be in the fourth-quarter drama business this time out.
However, an inability to land a knockout punch - or much of any punch - allowed the Huskies (2-3) to hang around.
Stephens, replacing Jonathan Crompton at quarterback in hopes of injecting life into UT's offense, was 10-of-17 passing for 156 yards.
Unable to mount a valid running game, the Vols topped out at 225 yards of total offense. That stood up because of a defense that kept an opponent out of the end zone for the second time this season.
Doing so was a matter of comfort in a 35-3 win over UAB. It was a matter of necessity Saturday night.
The Huskies managed a modest 190 yards and their only scoring came via three Mike Salerno field goals.
UT's defense also gave the Vols' offense a nudge with a big first-half turnover.
Eric Berry's interception and 48-yard return in the second quarter set up the first of two Daniel Lincoln field goals.
"Offensively, we made some steps in the right direction,'' Fulmer said. "I'm proud of Nick. For the most part he ran our offense well.
"There's certainly room to grow and he'll do that.''
Tennessee had several other opportunities to grow its margin but couldn't put the ball in the end zone.
Berry's interception return provided Tennessee a first down at the Huskies' 16. Stephens and Gerald Jones connected to convert for a first down at the 4. However, an illegal-formation penalty wiped off the first down and left Lincoln to clean up with a field goal.
That left it 3-3 at the half. Northern Illinois' field goal had come after a Josh Briscoe fumble on Tennessee's first possession.
On the second play of the second half, Stephens found Jones deep for a 43-yard connection to the NIU 21.
Three plays advanced only to the 17, from where Lincoln's 34-yard field goal put Tennessee ahead to stay, 6-3.
"We have to finish (drives),'' Stephens said. "If we do what we did tonight against a team like Georgia, it'll hurt us a lot more than it did tonight.''
The TD bomb to Moore came on UT's next possession and made it 13-3 with 9:49 left in the third quarter.
"Great throw, outstanding call,'' said Fulmer.
The crowd agreed. Momentum, however, was not ready to don an orange jersey.
Northern Illinois, playing with backup quarterback DeMarcus Grady, ticked off a 10-play drive that got Salerno in range for a 24-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 13-6.
UT's next possession was September-like. Cue a collective groan.
On third down at his own 23, Stephens was sacked from his blind side attempting to pass. The ball came loose and Northern Illinois recovered at the Vols' 9.
Tennessee's defense held, though, and a 25-yard Salerno field goal left UT clinging to a 13-9 edge with 1:31 left in the third quarter.
The Huskies had four more possessions in the fourth quarter, but never advanced past their 31.
The home team, meanwhile, was sabotaging two more chances to put the game out of harm's way.
With Arian Foster - 18 carries for 75 yards - finally getting in a rhythm, Tennessee drove for a first down at the NIU 9.
On third-and-goal from the 4, Stephens was sacked for a 10-yard loss. Then Lincoln hooked a 32-yard field-goal try wide left to a round of boos.
With 2:34 to play, Tennessee stopped the Huskies inches short on a fourth-down try. The Vols took over only 27 yards from the Northern Illinois end zone and Montario Hardesty charged 9 yards to the 18 on first down.
Three more Hardesty runs into the middle of the line went backward and UT turned over the ball to Northern Illinois with 14 seconds left.
"We were trying to be really safe,'' Fulmer said, "but we should be able to run that play we ran three times and make a first down.
"It was extremely disappointing we didn't make that first down to end the game without any other drama.''
From the looks of it, there's drama aplenty in store.