Tennessee Stat Book
When coach Derek Dooley and his Tennessee football team got off the bus Saturday afternoon to begin the Vol Walk, they were overwhelmed by the warm embrace of the assembled fans.
“That thing was unbelievable,’’ Dooley said, “after what they’ve been through the last couple of years. Overwhelming.’’
The Vols then paraded down the street to Neyland Stadium and returned the favor in a big way.
The Dooley Era — that’s three eras in three years, if you’re keeping count — is off and running with a 50-0 romp over UT Martin before an announced crowd of 99,123.
The Skyhawks of the Ohio Valley Conference were predictably overwhelmed. They were, after all, UT’s first non-FBS opponent since 1983.
Still, it was difficult to find too many nits to pick with what the Vols got done on a gorgeous evening for college football.
“Before you can learn how to win a game, you’ve got to not screw it up,’’ Dooley said.
UT outgained the Skyhawks 537 yards to 142. The first-down comparison was the real tell-tale marker — 23 to 3.
“I was really impressed with their defense,’’ said Skyhawks coach Jason Simpson. “They’re long, they’re athletic and they’re fast.’’
UT Martin never seriously threatened the end zone. When a 43-yard field-goal try missed in the fourth quarter, the Skyhawks were doomed to become Tennessee’s first shutout victim since Vanderbilt in 2003.
“They were struggling to block us,’’ Dooley said.
“I’ve been on the other side before, where you don’t have the manpower.’’
Next week UT faces all the manpower it can handle. Oregon, due for a 7 p.m. visit on ESPN, obliterated New Mexico 72-0 Saturday.
“This was a good solid win,’’ Dooley said. “We start playing big-boy football next week.’’
UT’s defense played big-boy football. It was so dominant it even scored the final nine points.
Austin Johnson, playing his first game at linebacker, recorded a safety by tackling a Skyhawk in the end zone to make it 43-0.
Prentiss Waggner then intercepted a Derek Carr pass and motored 54 yards untouched to hit an even 50.
The offense showed up, too.
Tauren Poole ran for two touchdowns. David Oku and receiver Denarius Moore scored on long runs.
Matt Simms found Moore for a 42-yard TD strike.
Daniel Lincoln hit both field-goal tries, from 21 and 35 yards.
After a tentative first 28 minutes produced a modest 13-0 lead, the Vols suddenly blew out all the stops.
Oku’s 44-yard touchdown was the lone offensive highlight until the first half was nearly finished.
“We kind of hit a lull there and kind of lost our rhythm,’’ Dooley said of a second quarter that was reduced to an exchange of punts.
“But then we did a good job in the last three minutes of the half. The last three minutes of the half and the game are always important.’’
Poole exploded 24 yards with 1:44 on the first-half clock to make it 20-0 and give a restless crowd something to cheer.
The fireworks resumed early in the third quarter.
Moore lined up at receiver, but took a handoff on a sweep to his left. He burst free from a clot of would-be tacklers and found nothing but green grass as he cut to his right. He outran the Skyhawk pursuit to the end zone for a 58-yard score.
That made it 27-0.
Moments later Johnson made a diving interception at the Martin 42.
The Vols went for it all and got it, Simms finding Moore deep on first down for the score and a 34-0 lead.
Poole struck again, from 14 yards this time, and it was 41-0. Your turn, defense.
The running game piled up 332 yards on 43 attempts, a robust 7.7-yard average.
Poole had 110 yards and Oku 77.
True freshman Rajion Neal chipped in 79 yards late against a tiring UT Martin defense.
Neal’s 40-yard run to the Martin 12 in the closing minutes set up another scoring opportunity. Dooley, however, ordered quarterback Tyler Bray to take a knee and run out the clock.
Jones was the top receiver with six catches for 86 yards but left the game with a hand injury.
Simms, the junior-college transfer, was generally in command in his debut. He was 14-of-24 passing for 181 yards and no interceptions.
The only turnovers came from Jones, a fumble on a punt return in the first quarter, and an interception by freshman Tyler Bray.
In each case, the defense was up to the task of cleaning up any mess.
“It was a good start,’’ said Dooley.
It was also a good way to repay their fans for an emotional welcome.