Game recap: Tennessee 42, Montana 16
Tennessee Stat Book
Ask the Montana Grizzlies about southern hospitality, and they will tell you it's a myth. They have Saturday to prove it.
The Grizzlies were exposed to 90-something-degree heat in the afternoon, a rogue thunderstorm that struck faster than Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, and a 93-minute weather-induced kickoff delay.
By then, they were probably looking overhead for locusts. Instead, they got Air Vols.
Bray passed for 235 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as Tennessee jumped out to an early four-touchdown lead en route to a 42-16 victory in their season opener before an announced crowd of 94,661.
Don't slight the fans for failing to fill Neyland Stadium. This was a day for staying indoors, even before the lightning struck.
Temperature: About 95 degrees. Felt like: A sauna.
And the air quality was as bad as the heat.
But that was just a warm-up. Then came a sharp-breaking curveball from Mother Nature that the local weather guys never saw coming.
It's a wonder the thunderstorm didn't chase everybody home. Those who stuck around were treated to an offense that was both promising and disappointing — depending on whether the Vols were passing or running.
Bray often made it look easy in the first half, setting up comfortably in the pocket before flicking fastballs to Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. Passing was a breeze. Running was a source of frustration.
And no one was more frustrated than second-year UT coach Derek Dooley.
"We're not running the ball like we need to,'' was his opening comment in a brief halftime interview on the Vol Network.
His frustration was understandable. He has preached the significance of running the ball since the end of the 2010 season, during which the Vols averaged only 109.2 yards rushing per game.
Freshman Marlin Lane had an 18-yard run in the first quarter. But that wasn't a sign of runs to come.
Even if you took away the 17 yards Bray lost attempting to pass, the Vols averaged only 3.3 yards on 25 first-half carries. That's right out of the 2010 stat book.
If you can't run the ball on the FCS Grizzlies, what can you expect against the likes of Alabama and LSU?
Answer: nothing good.
The consensus preseason take on the Vols: An offense that returned the large majority of its starters would do the heavy lifting until a young defense gained experience over the course of the season.
But the defense more than held its own against Montana. In fact, cornerback Art Evans accounted for UT's only third-quarter score when he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown.
While the defense was stepping up, the offense was stepping backward. It didn't score again until the 9:10 mark of the fourth quarter after a fumble recovery set up a six-play, 44-yard drive that included a 28-yard run by Tauren Poole and a 1-yard touchdown by Lane.
The final score was a comedown from UT's last two season openers — a 63-7 victory over Western Kentucky in 2009 and a 50-0 win against UT Martin last season. Credit the Grizzlies for that.
They were an upgrade over either Western Kentucky or UT Martin. And you didn't have to see the final score to know that.
You only had to see the Vols try to run the ball.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.