Nov. 5, 2011
(2-6, 1-3 Sun Belt)
(4-5, 0-5 SEC)
BY DREW EDWARDS
KNOXVILLE -- Heading into Saturday's homecoming game against Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee hadn't made a visit to the end zone -- checkerboard or otherwise -- in more than two games.
The Vols snapped a 10-quarter touchdown drought on their second possession and kept on scoring, defeating the Blue Raiders 24-0 Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.
The Vols (4-5) scored all 24 of their points in the first half, and could have added more had they converted a pair of fourth-down tries deep in MTSU territory in the second half.
"It's good to get a win. It's been a long time," said UT coach Derek Dooley, whose team snapped a four-game losing streak. "Really proud of how the team came out in the first half. "The second half, we just tried to shrink the game and wanted to try to run the ball a little bit better. We did what we needed to do to win the game, and that's what matters."
Tennessee's 24 points are more than it scored in its previous three games combined against LSU, Alabama and South Carolina, and just four shy of its total output in October.
But the started scoring early on Saturday night.
Austin Johnson intercepted Logan Kilgore's third pass of the game on the Blue Raiders' second possession and returned it to the MTSU 7. Three plays later, Tauren Poole scored his first touchdown -- and the Vols' -- since UT's loss to top-ranked LSU on Oct. 15.
The points piled up quickly the rest of the half.
Da'Rick Rogers, who finished with 137 yards receiving on nine catches, scored on a 47-yard touchdown pass which ended an 89-yard drive and gave UT a 14-0 lead with 2:24 left in the first quarter.
The Vols' next score came on another lengthy drive, which lasted nearly 8 minutes and covered 86 yards in 15 plays. Poole's 7-yard run gave UT a 21-0 lead midway through the quarter, and gave the senior his first multi-touchdown game of 2011 and the fourth of his career.
Tennessee added one more score just before halftime, again helped by another turnover.
After backup kicker Chip Rhome injured his leg in warmups, Brodus was rushed to the stadium less than an hour before kickoff. He connected on all three of his extra point tries in addition to the field goal.
That wasn't the only unexpected sight on Saturday, either.
Dooley gave walk-on running back Jaron Toney 19 carries, which went for a team-best 52 yards. Poole finished with 13 yards on 11 carries.
Backup tailback Marlin Lane took several direct snaps, all in an effort to spark the Vols' struggling run game.
"I wanted to see Jaron Toney. We're searching in the run game," Dooley said. We're not lighting it up running the ball. I wanted to see Jaron. We wanted to play a little 'Wildcat.' We're searching, guys. We're just not very good running the ball."
That improved some Saturday. Tennessee ran for 120 yards but still averaged just 2.7 yards per carry.
Worley's improvement was much more pronounced.
After making his first start a week ago in the Vols' loss to South Carolina, the true freshman completed 23 of his 32 passes for 291 yards, 202 of which came in the first half, and his first career touchdown.
"Really proud of him," Dooley said of Worley. "He didn't let last week's performance affect him. He played like the guy we signed and like we thought he could."
Worley, who had two interceptions last week, said he felt much more calm in his second career start.
"Tonight, I tried to stay calm and not let my nerves get to me," he said. "I didn't feel a whole lot tonight."
Tennessee's made sure MTSU didn't score at all, and limited the Blue Raiders (2-6) to just 230 yards of total offense. The shutout is Tennessee's first since a 50-0 victory over UT-Martin in last year's season opener.
"Feels good. It's always nice to get a 'W,' no matter who your opponent is," said Johnson, who led the Vols with seven tackles. "Shutting them out was good for us."
The Vols travel to face Arkansas next Saturday still searching for their first SEC win. Kickoff time will be announced as early as Sunday.
After a tough October, though, Dooley was glad to see his team come away smiling after a victory.
"Man, it feels good. When you lose and keep losing, it just pulls on your spirit," Dooley said. "You start questioning everything. You start doubting everything. Nothing heals like a good win. I'm proud of the team."