AP Top 25 College Football
MEMPHIS — New month. New quarterback. Big win. Fresh start.
And, to be fair, an overmatched opponent.
All of the above were true Saturday night, but there won’t be any more Memphises on Tennessee’s stretch-run schedule.
The Vols took out their frustrations from a four-game October losing streak in a 50-14 romp over the hapless Tigers before a crowd that began as 39,742 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
It was more like 742 for the final minutes, when Memphis tacked on a meaningless score.
By then freshman Tyler Bray had long since retired to the sideline after having achieved something in his first start that no Tennessee quarterback had ever done — throw five touchdown passes in a half.
The defense accelerated Memphis’ demise with five turnovers and a combined 124 return yards on three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
They threw five sacks in the bargain.
Tennessee (3-6) left the field victorious for the first time since a win over UAB on Sept. 25 and extended its domination over Memphis to 22-1.
The Vols, however, still are looking for their first SEC win as they turn to a homecoming date with Ole Miss. Then they finish against Vanderbilt and Kentucky.
“We outmatched them, and we did what we should do,’’ said UT coach Derek Dooley. “That was good.
“It’s been a while since we got a win, so it was a nicer scene in the locker room.’’
The Tigers (1-8) scored first and last. In between was an uninterrupted orange parade.
Bray finished 19 of 33 passing for 325 yards, 308 of it in the first half. He gave way to Matt Simms late in the third quarter.
The Vols collected 509 yards of offense, converted nine of 15 third downs and kept punter Chad Cunningham well hidden until the third quarter.
Tauren Poole rushed for 101 yards and Denarius Moore 103 receiving.
Still, not even a coin toss by Knoxville’s own governor-elect Bill Haslam could get the Vols off to a good start. The Tigers actually had the lead early.
Memphis stopped UT’s opening drive, tackling Poole short on fourth-and-2, then breezed 62 yards for a touchdown.
Ryan Williams hit Marcus Rucker with a 4-yard toss and it was 7-0.
That apparently flipped a switch on the Tennessee sideline.
From that point, the Vols shut the Tigers down — holding them to 55 yards the rest of the half — and scored on each of their remaining seven possessions before the break.
Bray spread his five first-half TD passes around to five different receivers, starting with Poole from 9 yards.
Justin Hunter was next for a 42-yard score.
Eric Gordon’s interception of a Williams pass gave the Vols a short field, but all that came of it was a 24-yard Michael Palardy field goal for a 16-7 lead.
Moore’s number was called four times in the next drive, culminating in a 14-yard TD strike.
Cannon Smith took over at quarterback for Memphis but the Tigers’ fortunes didn’t improve. On the contrary, Janzen Jackson greeted Smith with an interception and 35-yard return.
Moments later Da’Rick Rogers was making his first career touchdown catch, a 22-yarder.
A Smith turnover also precipitated UT’s next drive. Prentiss Waggner scooped up his fumble and returned it 37 yards to the 9.
From there Bray spotted Gerald Jones for the touchdown and a 37-7 lead.
“When we get turnovers, like any team, we play well,’’ said Dooley.
There was time for one last drive in the half and it produced a 32-yard Palardy field goal.
The onslaught slowed in the third quarter. The Vols added only 10 more points to take a 50-7 lead into the final period.
The touchdown came on a 21-yard Poole run, immediately after defensive tackle Malik Jackson intercepted a Memphis pass and rumbled 44 yards.
A fifth turnover soon followed when Waggner made his second fumble recovery. Simms took over at quarterback and fired a 34-yard pass to Moore, getting Palardy in range for his third field goal, a 33-yarder.
Dooley emptied the bench in the fourth quarter. Memphis capitalized with a 38-yard TD pass from Williams to Rucker with 1:26 to play.
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.