Butch Jones comments on the Austin Peay win
Ja'Wuan James and Antonio Richardson on the Austin Peay win
If Western Kentucky had lost to Kentucky by four touchdowns on Saturday, Tennessee coach Butch Jones might still have used the same superlatives to describe his team’s next opponent.
The fact that WKU not only beat the Wildcats, but did so convincingly, makes his job that much easier.
The Vols (1-0) play host to the Hilltoppers (1-0) on Saturday at Neyland Stadium (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.).
Moments after winning his first game at Tennessee, Jones described Western Kentucky as an “extremely talented team.” Actually, he used “extremely” three times.
The opening game under first-year Hilltoppers’ coach Bobby Petrino offers plenty of evidence that the Vols would be unwise to look ahead to their game at Oregon in two weeks.
WKU controlled the clock and used a balanced offense to amass 487 yards and beat Kentucky 35-26. It was the second victory in as many seasons by the Sun Belt team over its SEC rival.
While Kentucky is likely the worst team in the SEC this year, the unexpected dominance of the Hilltoppers’ win raised eyebrows. Two WKU fumbles and a 2-for-10 third down conversion rate kept Kentucky in the game. In other words, it could have been worse.
So maybe the wait to see Petrino’s magic at WKU won’t be as long as some thought.
Petrino was 75-26 in eight seasons at Louisville and Arkansas (with an ill-fated stop with the Atlanta Falcons in between) before losing his job at Arkansas for failing to disclose an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. The scandal that unfolded after a motorcycle wreck in April 2012 forced Petrino out of coaching for only about seven months.
Although he didn’t get an offer from a high-profile program (like Tennessee), Petrino’s reputation was such that he didn’t remain a free agent for long.
That may be why Jones was mentioning Western Kentucky only moments after wrapping up a 45-0 win over Austin Peay, an overmatched Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
The Vols outscored the Governors 42-0 in a punishing first half, but couldn’t maintain the dominance after halftime with virtually every starter on the bench.
“We have to continue to get better and we have to roll our sleeves up and come to work,” Jones said.
On Saturday night, senior defensive tackle Daniel Hood was relating a story from the game and accidentally said “Western Kentucky” instead of “Austin Peay.”
It’s a Freudian slip that Jones wouldn’t mind.
“He wouldn’t let anyone get too happy about (the win),” Hood said. “He’s already talking about Western Kentucky. We’ve known for a while that they were going to be a really good team and last time we played that coach (Petrino) he beat us pretty bad down in Arkansas.”
Hood is referring to the Vols’ 49-7 loss to the then-No. 8 Razorbacks on Nov. 12, 2011, in Fayetteville.
Many Vols remember that game, including quarterback Justin Worley, who was a true freshman starting in place of the injured Tyler Bray.
“We owe him a good one,” Hood said.
At Petrino’s behest, the Hilltoppers didn’t douse him with Gatorade or celebrate their victory over Kentucky with unusual gusto. Why? They didn’t consider it an upset.
“This year we felt like we were going to win this football game. We felt like we had a better team, a better program,” WKU President Gary Ransdell told WDRB columnist Rick Bozich. “Look at the stats. I expect they’ll speak for themselves. I expect we gave Tennessee some things to think about this week.”
Even before he knew the final score, Jones was already doing plenty of that.
“We’ll enjoy this one, but the more you win, the more is at stake,” Jones said. “We’ll enjoy it, but there’s a lot to work on.”