Stephens shows teammates he can get it done

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."

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Comments » 41

vtvol#210290 writes:

Congrats Nick on your first start. You have given me, as well as many other fans, cause for hope to turn around the offensive malaise that lately has become Tennessee football.

FedUpVolFan writes:

Hey!We are now ranked 55th in the nation!
UCLA is 88th.
Go figure!

MrBamSeydu writes:

I'm glad to see Crompton on the bench and Stephens playing fairly well for his first meaningful p.t.

I think he's clearly our best option and he showed us something to build upon. He's not there yet, but at least you can see he has the tools and his pocket presence seemed above average. I heard the announcers say more than a few times that he'd gone through his progressions and sometimes started back at his #1 option again (such as the long pass to G. Jones). Crompton would never get beyond his first 1 or 2 progressions before he'd sling it into the 3rd row, throw an INT if it was 3rd and long, or try to run and get his helmet twisted around real nice for himself.

Our defense is outstanding. If we had a more dominant front 4 and could double our sack output, we'd have nothing to complain about at all on the defensive side of the ball.

Our offense just needs a few games with Stephens to see if Clawson's offense is a joke or not. I haven't decided since we just now found a QB with an IQ over 14. I'm going to wait until the end of the season before I decide on Clawson.

utchris writes:

in response to MrBamSeydu:

I'm glad to see Crompton on the bench and Stephens playing fairly well for his first meaningful p.t.

I think he's clearly our best option and he showed us something to build upon. He's not there yet, but at least you can see he has the tools and his pocket presence seemed above average. I heard the announcers say more than a few times that he'd gone through his progressions and sometimes started back at his #1 option again (such as the long pass to G. Jones). Crompton would never get beyond his first 1 or 2 progressions before he'd sling it into the 3rd row, throw an INT if it was 3rd and long, or try to run and get his helmet twisted around real nice for himself.

Our defense is outstanding. If we had a more dominant front 4 and could double our sack output, we'd have nothing to complain about at all on the defensive side of the ball.

Our offense just needs a few games with Stephens to see if Clawson's offense is a joke or not. I haven't decided since we just now found a QB with an IQ over 14. I'm going to wait until the end of the season before I decide on Clawson.

Your assuming that this is in fact Clawson's offense. Looks more like the offense of old. We may be unfairly judging a man that has a leash on him.

MidTennVol writes:

Anybody else feel that Foster should be the third tailback behind Hardesty and Creer? He's just not getting it done.

Ride Hardesty hard, wear him out, spell him with Creer, and let Foster bring in his fresh legs later in the game.

Hardesty is without question the hardest runner I've seen in the UT backfield the past few years.

WeLoveTennesseeVols writes:

in response to MidTennVol:

Anybody else feel that Foster should be the third tailback behind Hardesty and Creer? He's just not getting it done.

Ride Hardesty hard, wear him out, spell him with Creer, and let Foster bring in his fresh legs later in the game.

Hardesty is without question the hardest runner I've seen in the UT backfield the past few years.

Why don't you spend a week with the team working out with the tailbacks or playing defense and let us know what you think. Maybe Foster's on somebody's leash also?

OldNumber7 writes:

"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."

Leadership problem solved. Now fix the attrocious blocking and ball protection that coaching should have had ready - and it obviously wasn't from snap one UCLA. If that gets done, and with Georgia not expecting us to show up - next Saturday could get interesting.

ps11824 writes:

I agree that this is not Clawson's offense. I agree that Creer should get more carries. GIVE CREER THE BALL! I agree that the playcalling is still getting us beat. Looks like I'm very agreeable this morning. I still believe there a discipline problem. The late hit cost us 15 yards at a crucial time. That should not have happened. Thing is, RocketVol, we are just not very good and it is a coaching thing.

We squeezed out a W against a team we should have beaten soundly. We will not squeak by any remaining opponent unless we clean up a LOT of slop.

khelton657 writes:

DenmarkVol - Yeah, Foster has no heart, pulls up before he gets to the line of scrimmage and it looks like inorder to soften his hit ( the one he is about to take, Veeeerrrrryyyy sloooooooow

khelton657 writes:

Stephens is encouraging...

Jshoop writes:

in response to khelton657:

DenmarkVol - Yeah, Foster has no heart, pulls up before he gets to the line of scrimmage and it looks like inorder to soften his hit ( the one he is about to take, Veeeerrrrryyyy sloooooooow

DenmarkVol - Yeah, Foster has no heart, pulls up before he gets to the line of scrimmage and it looks like inorder to soften his hit ( the one he is about to take, Veeeerrrrryyyy sloooooooow
I think you're right. Foster's biggest problem is he is slow. Even when he breaks loose, he gets caught rom behind. He is not physical and he is slow. Add in the fumbles and you wonder why he is the starter. He may be like Crompton and is a great practice player.

fedupvol writes:

Bench Foster permanently just like crompy ...hardesty/creer/poole....pf just trying to get him a record that means nothing given his reputation for losing games over the years...who cares.....this whole year is a disaster...just like a hurricane...need to start cleaning up the mess now, not after season over!

KennesawVol writes:

If Stephens gets to play the rest of the year, he'll be an excellent QB going into 2009. 2008 is a lost cause anyway.

cleVOLand writes:

in response to fedupvol:

Bench Foster permanently just like crompy ...hardesty/creer/poole....pf just trying to get him a record that means nothing given his reputation for losing games over the years...who cares.....this whole year is a disaster...just like a hurricane...need to start cleaning up the mess now, not after season over!

fedup- I respect your opinion and have a suggestion for you:

http://vucommodores.cstv.com/sports/m...

Give your tickets to some kids who love the vols.

formerknoxemployee writes:

UT has an all-American freshman on their team. Why aren't they utilizing him??? Want a spark to the offense? Try getting the ball to Brandon Warren and watch him go!

dwolfcreek#397971 writes:

GREAT JOB STEPHENS ,INSPICT OF A SORRY AZZ OFFENSE LINE . FOSTER NEEDS TO BE ON THE BACK OF A GARAGE TRUCK , THAT HIS FUTURE .HE MUST KNOW SOMETHING ON FULMER .THERES 3 RUNNING BACKS THAT CAN RUN CIRCLES AROUND HIM .

Vina_Dude writes:

I hope coach Fulmer will give Stephens more chance to play against Georgia next week. He looks much better than Crompton in passing. I think coach Fulmer understand that if he does not make the right decision, he will not last this season. Do Tennessee Fans agree with me???

CT_VOL writes:

My favorite part of the game was when Fulmer calls back to back time outs on the NIU 3 yard line to ensure everyone's on the same page. After waiting 10 minutes for this careful and crafty planning, we are treated to an instant Stephens sack! Funny sad!

Frank

rootin4volz writes:

"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."

Hmmm...I wonder it part of the problem offensively is that none of the COACHES are on the same page about personnel? For gosh sake, coaches, PUT THE PLAY MAKERS ON THE DAD-GUM FIELD!! Who CARES about Foster's record!? I want to see Tennessee Football played the way it's supposed to be played!

jsm67vol writes:

in response to Jshoop:

DenmarkVol - Yeah, Foster has no heart, pulls up before he gets to the line of scrimmage and it looks like inorder to soften his hit ( the one he is about to take, Veeeerrrrryyyy sloooooooow
I think you're right. Foster's biggest problem is he is slow. Even when he breaks loose, he gets caught rom behind. He is not physical and he is slow. Add in the fumbles and you wonder why he is the starter. He may be like Crompton and is a great practice player.

I said this earlier in the season. There seems to be a sense of entitlement on this team like nothing I have ever seen. I think the coach has alot to do with it. Fulmer just automatically puts the guys in there that have been around the longest and names them the starters. With all the "look at the film" talk we hear you would think there would be some positions opening up to competition every week. IMHO a coach should never name a QB, RB or any other position starters in the spring. Those starters have all pressure "competition" removed from them and you get what we have endured the first 4 weeks of the season, a QB that does not respond under pressure. If Nick had gotten more snaps in spring and fall with the first team, we might have seen Nick in the 2nd half of FL game, and our offense might look alot different by now. Instead we get a QB who is so convinced he is the starter that after a 56 yd passing performance against AU he has the nerve to say "I'm still the guy" That fellow vol fans is a player who feels entitled to start.

volsfaninkpt writes:

Did anybody else notice that Lucas Taylor didn't play any last night or was I the only one? Has anybody heard if he was suspended or hurt or anything like that?

VOLinDAWGland writes:

TDTN...you are assuming, and you may be correct I don't know, that Hamilton actually has the authority to fire Fulmer.

jsm67vol writes:

in response to rootin4volz:

"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."

Hmmm...I wonder it part of the problem offensively is that none of the COACHES are on the same page about personnel? For gosh sake, coaches, PUT THE PLAY MAKERS ON THE DAD-GUM FIELD!! Who CARES about Foster's record!? I want to see Tennessee Football played the way it's supposed to be played!

I can't believe that the coaches are that far out of touch. But here is something to think about.Clawson has said since his intro that his offensive scheme gets the playmakers on the field. We have not seen that. Fulmer says he has turned the offense completely ever to Clawson. What we have seen on the field tells me that one of the coaches is not being honest and I don't think its Clawson. If Fulmer is calling most of the plays yet he continues to tell us that Clawson is in charge of off. don't you think the players see that their head coach is not being honest. The integrity of the whole program is being compromised and maybe that has alot to do with the lack of inspired play we have seen at times this season. If Fulmer is calling the plays it has to be in large part because he knows his job is on the line and he is not going to allow a new OC to lose that position for him.

VOLinDAWGland writes:

Foster has not elevated his game this year. He's a tweener...two big and slow to play HB, not powerful enough to play FB. He plays like a HB with FB speed...not a winning combination.

Hardest should be the 1 with Creer the 2...sorry about that Foster...but the team and the game have to be bigger than the individual.

I think that right there - team over individual - is the root of Fulmer's problems. When he had overwhelming talent the talent papered over the team issue and when we had issues it was from individuals who thought they were bigger than the team. If Fulmer was totally about the team and winning he'd have the top 22 on the field and would sit those who screw up.

stormblast writes:

Well done Nick. Hopefully, we can build on this.

wkjq#213863 writes:

in response to formerknoxemployee:

UT has an all-American freshman on their team. Why aren't they utilizing him??? Want a spark to the offense? Try getting the ball to Brandon Warren and watch him go!

Stephens got him the ball, right in his hands, only he couldn't catch it. Those type incompletions shouldn't go against the QB.

Volsrbest writes:

A couple key drops and untimely penalties really cost us on some of those drives. I guess we say why Warren is not the full-time starter. Still got some work to do.

Play calling also killed a few of our drives. All in all, Stephens looked very good and I think he's our future at QB.

WhitePineVol77 writes:

I hate to say it although many already have...going bowling this year does not look good unless some good players on upcoming teams, God forbid, get hurt. Let Nick keep playing and let's look to 2009

philfan writes:

A pass completion rate of 10 for 17 translates to a 58% passing efficiency, which I think is excellent for a quarterback playing his first game. He had no interceptions at all. I hope we can beat Georgia (like we usually do) and give Fulmer victory 150. I am really shocked Adams has not mentioned the 150 landmark. I know he dislikes the man intensely but as a matter of courtesy he or one of his fellow writers could at the very least mention it in an article.

ggriggs939#223122 writes:

adams and the ns are not paid to write articles favorable to the Volunteers and Phillip.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to CT_VOL:

My favorite part of the game was when Fulmer calls back to back time outs on the NIU 3 yard line to ensure everyone's on the same page. After waiting 10 minutes for this careful and crafty planning, we are treated to an instant Stephens sack! Funny sad!

Frank

CT,
NIU took the first timeout.

If you didn't realize, I'm posting this rebuttal every stupid place you put your stupid post.

TennesseeGirl1630 writes:

We all know how loyal Fulmer tends to be...anyone think that Foster keeps getting the start and more pt bc of fulmers loyalty to foster? He stayed another year at UT, could be in the NFL, the season OBVIOUSLY isn't going as planned...Fulmer may feel he owes to him to keep his draft stock up....

TNfaninMS writes:

Im very glad to see Nick take such strides. Foster needs to sit on the bench, no breakaway speed, does not even try to run over people, dances too much. Well, Phil is trying to get him the record at the expense of the season. Anyone else see that?

FlaVol2 writes:

Way to go Nick. Keep up the good work and you will be alright. Go Vols! Follow Nick!

kbart4033#247331 writes:

Looking back, there was a reason Coach Cut stuck with a QB
last year that had a broken bone on his throwing hand and
a badly strained left shoulder: he could execute the 3-step
drop and release the ball faster than Crompton or Stephens,
both of whom tend to "wind up". That was important then--and
is important now-- because this O-line is absolutely awful.
The run-blocking is almost non-existent, especially in short-yardage situations, where the guy with the biggest heart
(and largest gonads) usually wins. Pass-blocking is not
much better, especially on any route that requires more than a
3-step drop. Unless the O-line play improves considerably
real soon, it won't make much difference who the QB is.
An 0-6 SEC mark is likely.

Vol737 writes:

We'll find out how solid Stephens is next week. Win or lose, if he performs well at UGA, Crompton has seen his last down barring an injury to Stephens.

tapeworm writes:

For all you folks wanting Foster on the bench, have you considered his ability to block and catch passes out of the backfield? There's a lot more to being a tailback than running the ball. It's obvious that Hardesty and perhaps even Creer have a slight advantage in running, but what about everything else?

LCvol writes:

I liked what I saw with Stephens presence in the pocket and accuracy with his passes. This has been missing all year. The touch down pass was something Crompton can only dream about. Go Vols !

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Stephens did fairly well, but he needs to work on his bounce passes and throwing to the phantom wide-out.

Colliervol writes:

Stephens had a decent first outing but I can assure you that if that offensive line doesn't get straightened out in a hurry, it won't matter how well he develops. This is the worst line I've seen in 25 years at UT. Can't run block or pass block. Or stay away from penalties. Like many parts of this team, it is totally undisciplined and whether you want to admit it or not, that falls to the coaches.

tenuscvol writes:

You'd think Coach Fulmer would be all over the O-line for their performance..we got to ratchet up the run game so our passing game can develop....Beat Bama!

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