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
Tennessee changed quarterbacks Saturday. It didn't change anything else.
It again honored members of the 1998 national championship team in pregame ceremonies. And it again played like the 1988 team, which finished 5-6.
Astute observers of UT football might point out that the 1988 team started 0-6 while this team has already won two games.
Forget the records. This team is just as bad.
And it's getting worse.
But before going any further, I would be remiss in not pointing out the good news emanating from Neyland Stadium on Saturday evening: The Vols held off Northern Illinois 13-9 for its second victory in five games.
Feel free to applaud. And if you want to hold that happy face, don't look beyond the "W."
Northern Illinois is a middle-of-the-road team from the Mid-American Conference. It lost its starting quarterback to injury in the second game of the season. It lost its second-string quarterback, Dan Nicholson, to injury in the second quarter Saturday night.
Nicholson completed 10 of 15 passes for 83 yards before leaving the game with a shoulder injury late in the first half. He provided the passing - and offensive balance - that third-string quarterback DeMarcus Grady couldn't.
Grady ran effectively enough to keep the Huskies in a game dominated by defenses. But Nicholson's passing could have turned this game in the Huskies' favor in the second half.
Instead, the difference turned out to be the passing of UT's new starting quarterback, Nick Stephens. He might not be the next Erik Ainge, but he was an improvement over former starter Jonathan Crompton.
Stephens completed 10 of 17 passes for 156 yards, including a game-deciding 52-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore. He demonstrated a strong arm and better accuracy than Crompton.
And he played well enough to make UT's decision to stick with Crompton against Auburn seem even more nonsensical.
Crompton completed eight of 23 passes against Auburn. He missed receivers by 15 and 20 yards. No matter how badly he threw, UT coaches kept trotting him out there for one failed series after another in a game that could have been won with a whisper's worth of offense.
Stephens wouldn't have had to throw a touchdown pass to beat Auburn. He would have just needed to pass for a first down to put the Vols within field-goal range.
Of course, there's no guarantee Daniel Lincoln would have made the field goal. He made two field goals against the Huskies but also missed a 32-yarder.
Kicking is the least of UT's offensive concerns. The Vols managed only 69 yards rushing and nine first downs against the Huskies. They sputtered inside the 20-yard line. Their heralded offensive line was outplayed by the Huskies' defensive front.
Remember when the offensive line was considered a team strength? That was in preseason.
In fact, every position on this offense apparently was overrated in preseason - not just by the media, but also by the coaches.
UT's offensive failure isn't just about talent. It's about coach Phillip Fulmer and his staff's ability to judge talent.
Based on Stephens' performance in his first start, UT might have been playing the wrong quarterback all season. And that makes you wonder about the rest of their depth chart as well.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.