Tennessee Stat Book
The pass hit Justin Hunter perfectly in stride, and the track meet was underway.
It was obvious nobody was catching the speedy Tennessee wide receiver as soon as he turned up the field, especially to the guy who threw him the ball.
Well behind the play, quarterback Tyler Bray started waving his hand to convey the goodbye message Hunter was delivering to the Montana secondary in last week's 42-16 victory for the Vols. And the 81-yard touchdown was officially brought to a conclusion when the part-time track star leaned into the end zone like he was winning a race.
"Yeah, I was thinking it was like a finish line," Hunter joked after the game. "I felt like I had to finish because I ran so far."
Judged against the standard the Vols (1-0) set a year ago with their dance moves, salutes and pretend title belts, Hunter pretending to break some tape at the end zone is barely a blip on the radar.
And compared to the throat-slashing gesture Bray made to the North Carolina bench in the Music City Bowl to end last season, the sophomore was much more restrained while adding yet another touchdown pass to a list that could expand more against Cincinnati (1-0) at Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 3:30 p.m.).
But rule changes put in place for this season by the NCAA to curb what is perceived to be excessive celebrations could possibly have been given their first test by the Vols in the blowout over the Grizzlies. Officials already had penalties they could assess for too much exuberance after a touchdown, but the new rule now allows for touchdowns to be taken away if a player starts enjoying a score before it's technically been earned with 15 yards being marked off from the spot of the foul.
Perhaps by design, Hunter's move would have been simultaneous with the touchdown, and Bray's wave well behind the action might not have been noticed at all if not for television cameras. And while Derek Dooley isn't trying to keep his players from being themselves and enjoying the product of their labor, the Vols coach also would prefer they do it in a way that would never tempt a ref to drop a flag on the ground.
"I didn't see (Bray), but at least he didn't look at their sideline and do a nasty gesture, so we've made progress," Dooley said. "But we're not where we need to be. I just hope that we don't take away spontaneous exuberance from the game, because we all have it. As long as a player reacts and does something in a spontaneous way, then they gather themselves like, 'OK, that's enough,' it doesn't ruin the game.
"You know, I don't like all this stuff where we're trying to take away a little bit of the fun and the emotion out of it. But I also understand the importance of not allowing bad sportsmanship in our game. I don't like that either. I just hope we manage it fairly and consistently as officials to where it really doesn't have a negative impact on the game."
Defense Never Rests: The improved level of competition certainly has the attention of the UT coaching staff.
But it's not just the spread offense the Bearcats run so well that has Justin Wilcox looking for more from the Vols this week. The defensive coordinator picked out problems at every level of his unit that need to be patched up by Saturday against a team that can score in a hurry.
"On the (defensive) line, our contain in our pass rush is going to be critical," Wilcox said Wednesday. "At linebacker, we've got to tackle better. That's something that's going to be continually emphasized.
"In the secondary, we've got to be more physical on the edge in the bubble game and in the run game. And we've got busted coverages, obviously, which cost you. So we've got to be 100 percent on our coverage assignments because these guys can hurt you really quick."
Bumps And Bruises: The Vols appeared to be close to full strength as they wrapped up the practice week with a morning workout on Thursday.
Maurice Couch seems to be the only player whose status is uncertain at this point, as the defensive tackle tries to recover from a knee strain suffered last weekend in time to play against the Bearcats.
Devrin Young (collarbone) and Herman Lathers (ankle) are both still out, though Young will be re-evaluated next week and has been more active in practice despite continuing to wear a red, non-contact jersey.
Senior defensive lineman Steven Fowlkes is practicing with the team, but he appears unlikely to play again on Saturday with a lingering academic eligibility issue.