Sept. 10, 2011
(1-1, 0-0 Big East)
(2-0, 0-0 SEC)
KNOXVILLE -- There are plenty of words that would fit Tennessee's passing game in its 45-23 victory over Cincinnati. Wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers thinks he knows the best one.
"It wouldn't call it easy. I would call it routine," Rogers said. "You really just play like you play in practice, and it carries over in the game."
Led by a record day from quarterback Tyler Bray, Tennessee's passing game was clicking at a level against the Bearcats in Neyland Stadium on Saturday that hasn't been seen in quite a while. And in a couple cases, ever.
A week after the two combined for 246 receiving yards in a victory over Montana, they became the first receivers in Tennessee history to record 10 catches in the same game and the first to record back-to-back 100-yard games.
"Our passing game was on all cylinders," UT coach Derek Dooley said.
Tennessee's running game, which struggled at times last week against the Grizzlies, got good production from senior Tauren Poole, who finished with 101 yards on 21 carries.
The Vols' defense, though, took a while to warm up.
Cincinnati scored on its first two possessions, although one was delayed by a successful onside kick by the Vols. But after ending the first quarter tied at 14-14, the Bearcats found a brick wall on a pair of fourth-and-1 attempts that helped swing the game toward Tennessee.
Freshman linebacker A.J. Johnson and junior college transfer Maurice Couch blew up a fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 49-yard line early in the second quarter. Holding on to that same 21-14 lead, Malik Jackson and Brent Brewer stuffed quarterback Zach Collaros on another fourth-and-1 at the UT 46-yard line with a little more than 5 minutes remaining in the half.
"It's a great feeling. We go in there every week and talk about getting big stops," Jackson said. "It's always big when you stop a team on fourth-and-1."
And not just because the Vols got the ball back, either.
"It's not just the stop, it's field position," Dooley said. "Those are about 40-yard stops, turnovers. And it generates juice. You get a little excited. Those plays are huge, the fourth downs."
The Vols rode the momentum of that stop to a 53-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 15-yard pass from Bray to Rogers, who had two touchdowns to go with his 10 catches for 100 yards.
Hunter, who had 81 of his 146 receiving yards last week on one play, finished with 156 yards on 10 catches, none of which went for more than 33 yards.
In the second half, the Vols' offense was a little less aerodynamic, but Bray scored his first career rushing touchdown to give the Vols a 35-14 lead just after halftime. His 16-yard pass to Zach Rogers at the end of the third quarter all but sealed the game at 42-17.
The Bearcats (1-1), who scored 72 points last week against Austin Peay, got a field goal and a fourth quarter touchdown, but never seriously threatened Tennessee's lead.
"We were just in that zone tonight," Bray said. "If you could have been in our huddle, you could have seen it in everyone's eyes."
The Vols, 2-0 for the first time since 2006, turn their focus to Saturday's SEC opener at No. 18 Florida. Tennessee last won at Florida in 2003, and the Vols are winless against the Gators in the last six meetings.
Bray didn't play against the Gators last year, and Rogers and Hunter hadn't cracked the starting lineup yet. Those three put a significantly different face on the Vols' offense, but the Gators are a significantly different opponent than UT has seen in its first two games.
"(Bray) looks very different than what he did last year at this time," Dooley said. "But you know this is two games. It's a long season now. We've got to get ready next week. These suckers are good.
"Before we start patting ourselves on the back a little bit, let's just enjoy the win and see if we can keep up with these guys next week."