Sept. 5, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
When play stopped during the first quarter of Tennessee's season opener Saturday afternoon, Marsalis Teague stopped for a moment to soak up the surroundings.
The true freshman looked around him and scanned the crowd of 98,761 inside Neyland Stadium.
And then he nearly missed the next play.
"Next thing I know, I hear (quarterback Jonathan) Crompton calling the play. I'm like, `What'd you say?'" Teague said. "I had a little excitement going on. But man it was a great feeling."
That was about the only time Teague seemed like a freshman on Saturday.
A few hours later, the Vols were celebrating a 63-7 victory over Western Kentucky, and Teague was grinning when asked about his team-best six catches for 86 yards, which included a late touchdown.
"It was a good day for me," Teague said. "But the main thing is we got the team victory."
And the Vols (1-0) got plenty of help from first-year players.
Teague was the only true freshman who started on either side of the ball Saturday, but nine others played.
Highly touted running back Bryce Brown rushed for 104 yards and scored Tennessee's first touchdown.
Tailback David Oku added 45 yards and two touchdowns of his own.
Receiver Nu'Keese Richardson had three catches and rushed once for 8 yards after lining up at quarterback. Richardson also returned three punts for 30 yards, although he provided one of the day's other freshman moments.
Richardson misplayed Western Kentucky's first punt of the day and then fumbled the ball before corralling it. But the miscues - at least obvious ones - were few and far between for UT's young players.
"I thought that we spent a lot of time with their mentality, making sure we could calm them down as much as we could," UT coach Lane Kiffin said. "And sure enough Nu'Keese puts the first punt on the ground."
Receiver Zach Rogers, safety Darren Myles Jr., cornerback Mike Edwards, safety Janzen Jackson, linebacker Greg King, defensive tackle Montori Hughes and linebacker Nigel Mitchell-Thornton also made their college debut as true freshmen on Saturday.
But Brown and Teague had the biggest impact.
"I thought Bryce did well," Kiffin said. "And I thought Marsalis was not a freshman today. He did not look like a freshman."
Since being introduced as UT's head coach in December, Kiffin has preached that talented freshmen would play early. And that was true, even within the framework of Saturday's opener.
Myles, Edwards and Jackson were all on the field for the opening kickoff, and Brown entered on the Vols' second possession of the game.
"It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone," Brown said. "(Kiffin) told everyone you're going to get a chance to play. He gave all of us an opportunity to play and a chance in fall camp to show what we could do.
"It just shows how honest the staff is and what they truly believe in."
Two TDs for Stocker: Tight end Luke Stocker grabbed a pair of touchdowns, including an athletic play on the goal line that gave the Vols a 42-7 lead.
"It feels great to get out and make some plays," Stocker said. "I struggled last year. The whole offense struggled last year. To go out there as a team and put a bunch of points on the board, it feels great."
No Numbers: Linebacker Nick Reveiz, named a captain on Thursday, said he didn't know the Vols held Western Kentucky to negative yardage in the first half. But he knew the Vols were playing well on defense.
"I didn't know about the numbers, but I felt good," said Reveiz, who had six tackles Saturday. "I felt like we had a pretty good game."
Berry Close: Safety Eric Berry didn't have an interception Saturday - but he came close in the first quarter when he broke up a pass near the Western Kentucky 10-yard line.
Tip Drill: Crompton threw two interceptions on Saturday, both the rest of tipped passes. All told, Western Kentucky tipped four passes on the day.
Injury Update: Cory Sullins played the majority of the game at left guard after starter Vlad Richard left with an Achilles injury. Kiffin said Richard could have returned to action.
Receiver Denarius Moore played Saturday, marking a quick recovery from a foot injury suffered before the start of preseason camp.
Read Drew Edwards' blog, The Inside Source.