Game recap: Tennessee 42, Montana 16
Tennessee Stat Book
The Tennessee passing attack picked up right where it left off a year ago.
So did its running game.
One of those things was a major positive for the Vols as they lifted the curtain on the season, with Tyler Bray again slinging the ball all over the field and liberally spreading around touchdowns. But on the ground UT couldn't quite impose its will consistently in the opener, and while it didn't cost it anything in a 42-16 rout over Montana on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium, the search for balance is apparently still an ongoing effort.
"We were hoping we could run it a little bit better, but Montana did a good job," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "They have all seniors and juniors on defense, and you can tell.
"They whipped us at the line of scrimmage, I felt like, the whole game. That's a real tribute to them, a veteran team with some big, physical guys. We didn't run it the way we needed to run it, so we need to make a little improvement there. But we made some big plays in the throwing game, stretched the game out a little bit early and that was good."
That was a familiar formula from the four-game winning streak that closed the regular season for the Vols last year, when the running game seemingly hit a wall and Bray began piling up impressive numbers.
The sophomore was doing that again, answering any doubts about some average scrimmage performances during training camp by continuing to hit big plays down the field and completing his passes at a productive clip. Bray finished 17 for 24 for 293 yards and three touchdowns against the Grizzlies, hooking up regularly with fellow sophomores Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers and getting both of them into the end zone in the first quarter as the Vols took control after a 93-minute weather delay.
But like last November, Bray was doing that without much support from the tailbacks, who averaged less than three yards per carry despite senior Tauren Poole grinding out 98 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown.
"Montana was playing hard the entire game, they never let up — and we've got to be better," Poole said. "Not every game is going to be perfect, and this is the prime example. We've got to be better each and every down.
"It wasn't disappointing, because when I was watching film, I saw how hard they played and how disciplined they were on the defensive side. It wasn't disappointing, if anything I'm just disappointed in my play. I've got to be better, me and Marlin (Lane) and the entire game will be better."
Lane showed some flashes of his ability in his debut with the Vols, turning heads with an impressive 18-yard carry in the first quarter and then making a quick cut to the middle of the field in the next frame to punch in a 9-yard touchdown on a short pass from Bray.
But overall the Vols were leaning much more heavily on Bray's arm than the legs of any of their tailbacks, even at one point focusing their running game on Bray's whole body to convert a pair of third downs and extend drives when it was struggling to get the tough yards.
"We've got to do better, we've got to do a better job of coaching and getting them in the right play and we've got to run the ball better," Dooley said. "I mean, I'm very concerned. But I knew this wasn't going to be easy, so let me qualify it.
"Montana has some big, thick, stout guys who have played a lot of snaps. I knew this was going to be a good test for us. We're going to get better, we're young up front and this was a good game for us to go through."
The Vols got through it with a win, doing it in much the same way they got accustomed to last season.