Game recap: Tennessee 41, Buffalo 10
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Tennessee Stat Book
Replacing Justin Hunter wasn't supposed to fall exclusively on Da'Rick Rogers' lap.
Hunter was so special and so unique that Tennessee would have to do it "by committee," players and coaches said during the two weeks between an ugly loss at Florida and Saturday's 41-10 romp over Buffalo at Neyland Stadium.
The committee was certainly ready and willing to help Vols fans forget about Hunter, but so was Rogers. And Buffalo's defense, which stuck with its man coverage from start to finish, was more than accommodating to let the sophomore run all over the field without much distress.
Rogers reeled in one-third of Tyler Bray's 21 completions (seven) for more than half of his 342 passing yards (180). Unlike the Florida game, when he was double-teamed from the moment Hunter went down with a torn ACL, Rogers seemingly was open on every play that involved him running a route.
"They played a lot of man, and I feel like we exploited that," Rogers said. "We're throwing a lot of quick routes seeing if our big receivers and other receivers can make plays on them."
Those other receivers did make plays Saturday, but they'll likely be responsible for more as October progresses. Not many games against the SEC's best, starting next week against a suddenly hot Georgia team, are going to be as easy for Rogers as it was against the Bulls.
"They're going to scheme, obviously, to shut him down," junior wide receiver Zach Rogers said. "That puts a lot of weight on our shoulders as other receivers. We've got to keep practicing great and come out next week with a good mind-set."
Former tailback Rajion Neal, who was hampered by a knee injury during the preseason, provided a fresh face in the receiving corps, but his production was minimized after a hot start. Neal caught a 14-yard pass and followed it with a 20-yard touchdown off an end-around run to cap UT's first scoring drive.
Neal touched the ball only twice more — both on carries — and dropped a screen pass, but he came away from his first real action of the season confident and satisfied with his role in the offense.
"I feel the role will grow," Neal said. "I can help as much as they allow me to."
Technically, Zach Rogers, who was slated to play exclusively in the slot before Hunter's injury, filled Hunter's role at the "X" position. He was targeted just a handful of times and finished with two catches for 24 yards.
His biggest play came on Da'Rick Rogers' 58-yard reception in the second quarter, when he took out two Buffalo defenders with one block to help spring the long catch-and-run.
"I had to look up (at the JumboTron) immediately," Zach Rogers said. "I like to block. I think it's one of our top receiver attributes. I try to do that each and every day. This time it worked out well."
Freshman DeAnthony Arnett wasn't on the field as much as he was against Florida, when he led the Vols with eight catches, but he was certainly efficient. Two of Arnett's three receptions were for touchdowns, including a controversial one in the third quarter that survived a replay review.
"They couldn't see it on the replay, but I'm going give him credit for the second one," coach Derek Dooley said. "He's doing OK. Wasn't very active in the slot but we didn't need him to be.
Da'Rick Rogers in Buffalo game
"Da'Rick had a big day. If Da'Rick can't catch for 180 then someone has to make up for it. We have to get these yards."
Bray said he didn't grow bored feeding the ball to Rogers and wasn't going out of his way to involve the other receivers just because he felt he had to. That mind-set changed, though, changed on the goal line.
"I try and always spread out the touchdowns," Bray said with a smile.
The committee will just have to wait another week.
"When a guy catches for 180," Dooley said, "what do you do?"