Tennessee-Cincinnati Game in Review
Tennessee Stat Book
One small step for re-establishing a program. One important leap for maximizing the 2011 season.
There was a time when a 45-23 Tennessee win over Cincinnati would be viewed as business-as-usual.
While no one was tearing down the goal posts, a crowd of 94,207 witnessed plenty to celebrate.
The obvious was sophomore Tyler Bray passing for 405 yards, a career high. And his classmates and routemates, Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, making history as the first pair of Tennessee receivers to log 100-yard games on the same day.
But the big picture should not be overlooked. The Vols are 2-0 for the first time since 2006.
Furthermore, they shed a five-game losing streak against nonconference BCS opponents that dated to an Outback Bowl win over Wisconsin after the 2007 season.
UT was a mere 4- to 5-point favorite over the Bearcats (1-1) and Cincinnati was a trendy upset pick in the national media. All of which is a comment on the state of Tennessee's program after a turbulent three years.
The outcome Saturday, however, was never in doubt once UT's defense shook off a slow start and prevented the go-go Bearcats from matching the Vols score for score.
"We took a step forward,'' said senior tailback Tauren Poole. "Now it's time for big-boy football against Florida.''
The Vols did not want to go to The Swamp next week coming off a home loss. They won't.
Cincinnati was a team they had to beat to keep on pace to be bowl eligible. They did.
The first quarter, however, was anybody's game. Both teams scored touchdowns on their first two possessions.
"They had us on our heels,'' said coach UT Derek Dooley.
Isaiah Pead's 65-yard touchdown on the game's opening possession left the Vols on their fannies. A 13-yard TD pass from Zach Collaros to Adrien Robinson knotted the score at 14-14 to end the first quarter.
But Cincinnati didn't score another touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter, by which time the Vols had piled up an insurmountable 42-17 lead.
The UT defense recorded five consecutive stops to close out the first half — two punts, a missed field goal and, most impressively, two stops on fourth-and-1.
"I give it to our defense,'' said Rogers. "Two fourth-and-1 stops. You can't ask for any more than that.''
Rogers did his part, too.
He had 10 catches for 100 yards, including two touchdowns.
Hunter's 10 catches produced 156 yards and a score.
"Nothing surprises me any more from those two guys,'' said Bray, who was 34-of-41 passing and avoided interceptions.
It was freshman Marlin Lane who scored first, a 2-yard run to answer Cincinnati's opening drive.
Then Dooley fueled the newfound momentum by ordering an onside kick, which Michael Palardy successfully executed.
Five plays later, Hunter broke open and Bray delivered a perfect throw for a 33-yard touchdown.
In the second quarter, an 11-yard TD pass to Rogers put Tennessee ahead for good, 21-14.
Late in the half, Rogers came up with another touchdown catch from 15 yards. He was sandwiched by two Cincinnati defenders and lost his helmet but came up holding the football.
"I hope they keep doing what they're doing,'' said Dooley of his prodigious sophomores, "but the tests are going to keep getting harder.''
Tennessee opened the third quarter in good form with a 10-play drive. Bray capped it with a 1-yard dive, his first career rushing score.
The defense bent — over backward — giving Cincinnati first-and-goal at the 1, but dug in to force a 23-yard Tony Miliano field goal.
The Vols had the perfect answer, a 71-yard drive. For variety's sake, Bray picked out Austin Rogers for a 16-yard TD strike and a 42-17 lead.
Cincinnati's last score, a 6-yard Collaros pass to Anthony McClung, came courtesy of Rajion Neal's fumble at the UT 22.
The Vols won the yardage battle 531 to 396. Poole carved out 101 rushing yards and tight end Mychal Rivera had six catches for 54 yards.
"They're going to gain some yards,'' Dooley said of Cincinnati, "but it helps when they're not stopping you.
"So it was just as important we kept scoring.''
Now, it's important that the Vols keep making progress on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
"We're 2-0,'' Dooley said, "looking good. Everything's good.
"But next week we're playing one of the best defenses in the country. Before we say we're good, let's play some of these SEC defenses.''