Dave Hooker's post-game audio
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- 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's new gunslinger had an itchy trigger finger.
Making his first career start Saturday against Northern Illinois, quarterback Nick Stephens couldn't wait to take his first snap.
Before the offense took the field for the first time, Stephens had a hard time idling during a media timeout.
So Stephens, the redshirt sophomore who coaches have called a gunslinger because of his tendency to take chances, asked the referee how much time before the ball was ready to be snapped.
"He was rushing the ref," receiver Gerald Jones said, smiling. "Ten second later, he asked him how much time do I have now? He was great. He was ready. He was more pumped up than anyone on offense. You could tell."
Stephens' first start was at least worth waiting for.
It wasn't a record-setting or high-scoring day, but Stephens' performance in a 13-9 victory over Northern Illinois on Saturday was at least encouraging to coaches and teammates heading into next week's game at No. 11 Georgia.
In fact, coach Phillip Fulmer said that Stephens would remain UT's starter ahead of Jonathan Crompton against the Bulldogs.
Receiver Josh Briscoe liked what he saw from Stephens, whose only other game experience came Sept. 13 against UAB.
"Nick came in the game with excitement," Briscoe said. "He was poised and ready to play. He came out and played hard and played fast. He made some nice throws."
Stephens was 10-for-17 for 156 yards and a touchdown. Two of those incomplete passes were dropped, and another two were the result of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage.
Overall, Stephens was fairly pleased with his debut.
"I felt like we moved the ball well at times, but at times I felt like we stopped ourselves," he said.
Therein lies the rub for Tennessee's offense.
While it got much improved play from its quarterback this week, the offense still struggled on third downs (3-for-13) and turnovers (two fumbles).
The Vols also struggled to run the ball, with their tailbacks averaging about 3.8 yards per carry, and Stephens was sacked three times.
One of those sacks resulted in a fumble that gave the Huskies the ball at UT's 9.
Briscoe also fumbled on an awkward play in which he trapped the ball between his hands and cornerback Melvin Rice's back.
Those turnovers weren't as baffling to offensive coordinator Dave Clawson as a fumbled exchange near the end zone last week at Auburn or a botched handoff inside the 5 against Florida.
"Obviously we need to take care of the football, but it was a blind shot and those things happen," Clawson said of Stephens' fumble. "The one fumble by Josh Briscoe, I think that play can happen to any player at any level. That was a tough catch behind him and the guy popped it out."
UT couldn't muster much pop in the running game until Arian Foster, who finished with 75 yards on 18 carries, rushed six consecutive times for 40 yards in the fourth quarter.
Montario Hardesty finished with seven carries for 20 yards. Lennon Creer did not carry the ball, even after running backs coach Stan Drayton said he had played mistake-free last week at Auburn and would play more against the Huskies.
Still, Stephens gave the Vols a big-play threat they've lacked all season.
Despite playing in just two games, he has three of UT's four longest pass plays this season.
Two of them came Saturday in the form of a 43-yard completion to Gerald Jones and a 52-yard touchdown to Denarius Moore, the first touchdown for both Moore and Stephens.
"I feel like he stepped in pretty good," said Moore, who led UT's receivers with three catches for 65 yards. "He took control of the huddle. We looked in his eyes in the huddle and could tell he had no fear in him."