Sep 5, 2013
Each Thursday, Brian Rice will take a look back at the Lowe's #DefiningMoments. With the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers coming to Neyland Stadium Saturday, we flashback to the only previous meeting between the teams, in 2009.
By Brian Rice
On a sweltering hot September Saturday, not unlike the one forecast for this Saturday, Tennessee welcomed Western Kentucky to Neyland Stadium for a 12:21 kickoff.
The game was historic for several reasons. The unusual start time was the debut of the ESPN-owned SEC Network syndication package that replaced the package produced by longtime SEC partner Jefferson Pilot/Raycom. The game was also the first for Western Kentucky as a member of NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, after completing the transition from the Football Championship Subdivision.
Tennessee provided a tough welcome to FBS for the Hilltoppers, exercising the demons of a 5-7 record in 2008 with a 63-7 win.
Chief among those exercising demons was quarterback Jonathan Crompton, whose five touchdown passes in the game bettered by one his total output of four from the entire 2008 season.
The game didn't start out looking like the rout it eventually became. The teams muddled through a scoreless first quarter, as both of Tennessee's drives in the opening stanza ended with turnovers. Crompton's third pass of the game was intercepted by Jamal Forrest to end UT's first possession. After the second-consecutive three-and-out for WKU, a steady diet of Crompton passes and Montario Hardesty carries had UT driving. But Hardesty fumbled after pulling down a Crompton swing pass at the WKU 29.
UT appeared to have forced another three-and-out on the ensuing possession, but a roughing the passer penalty continued the drive for the Hilltoppers. The UT defense dug deep, getting sacks from LaMarcus Thompson and Chris Walker to force the third punt of the day three plays later.
A powering drive down the field turned the game sharply in Tennessee's favor. Over the next 4:33, UT drove 81 yards on ten plays, nine of them on the ground. Hardesty and Bryce Brown each had long runs on the drive, with Hardesty busting runs of 22 and 18 yards to compliment Brown's long of 16. Hardesty put UT in the red zone with a 10-yard run on the first play of the second quarter, while Brown scored the season's first touchdown two plays later with a 2-yard dive.
The next possession for each team would last just one play each. Thompson forced and recovered a Bobby Rainey fumble on WKU's opening play, while Crompton hit Luke Stocker on the very next snap for a 17-yard TD to give UT the 14-0 lead.
The Hilltoppers had consecutive three-and-outs, to which Tennessee responded with consecutive drives ending with Crompton touchdown passes, the first to Quintin Hancock, the second to Brandon Warren, to give the Vols a 28-0 lead at the halftime break.
After a slow start to the second half, Hardesty provided another one-play drive for UT with a 43-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. Crompton recovered from an interception in the third to toss two more TD passes, each to Marsalis Teague, before leaving the game to the approving cheers of the 98,761 in attendance. David Oku scored on a pair of touchdown runs down the stretch for the final 63-7 margin.
The win was the widest margin of victory for Tennessee since a 70-3 win over Louisiana-Monroe in 2000, while the 380 rushing yards marked the largest total since a 347-yard performance against Louisiana Tech in 2004.
Crompton would go on to throw for 2,800 yards in 2009, a total that was more than double his career total entering the season and threw 27 touchdown passes. Hardesty ran for 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground, while catching 25 passes for 302 yards and a TD before being selected in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns.
Tennessee would go 7-6 in 2009, Lane Kiffin's only season at Tennessee, including an appearance in the Chick-fil-a Bowl in Atlanta.