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GAME 4: Vols Open Three-Game Homestand Versus Ohio
Vs. the MAC: Tennessee holds a 2-0 all-time advantage over teams that now comprise the Mid-American Conference. The Vols defeated Northern Illinois 13-9 in 2008 and Akron 52-9 in 1989. It is the first meeting between Ohio and the Vols.
Vs. Ohio Teams: Tennessee is 10-1 vs. teams from the state of Ohio, which included matchups vs. Akron, Cincinnati, Dayton and Ohio State. The Vols only loss to an Ohio team came vs. Cincinnati in 1904.
Three in a Row: Tennessee has suffered through a three-game or longer losing streak within the same season just four times since 1980. Dating to 1933 and the beginning of the Southeastern Conference, Tennessee is 26-13-2 when facing a potential three-game losing streak.
Fiesta Bowl Blues: Ohio head coach Frank Solich has never coached against current UT head man Lane Kiffin, but he was at the helm of the Nebraska program that defeated Tennessee 31-21 in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl.
On Sept. 26: Tennessee is 8-3-2 all-time on Sept. 26 and has won three straight since 1992. The Vols have not lost on Sept. 26 since 1970 (Auburn).
Start Streaks: Senior Chris Scott and junior Eric Berry will each start their 30th consecutive game vs. Ohio. The school record for consecutive starts by a position player is 50, which Berry could reach if he were to stay for his senior year at Tennessee. No other Vol will reach the 30-start mark this season.
Win 500: A victory over Ohio on Saturday would be the Vols 500th all-time win in Knoxville. Though games have been played at multiple venues, Tennessee has won 499 all-time home games. The Vols' Knoxville record stands at 499-133-25 (.778).
A win would: A win would give the Vols a .500 mark or better in the month of September for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons.
A loss would: A loss would drop the Vols to 1-3, which would put them under .500 in the first third of the season for the second time in as many years.
Hardesty has Ground Game Rolling
Senior tailback Montario Hardesty is finally the feature back in Tennessee's offense after three seasons as a backup, splitting time or in a goal-line role. In three starts during the 2009 season, Hardesty has produced the three largest single-game rushing efforts of his career and scored three touchdowns.
The New Bern, N.C., native is averaging 115 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry. He currently ranks 10th in the nation and second in the SEC in rushing yards per game. He is on pace for 1,380 rushing yards in 2009. Hardesty has reeled off 10 runs of 10 yards or more, including two 20-plus yard treks and a career-long 43-yard touchdown run vs. Western Kentucky. He needs just 109 yards to become the 27th back in school history to rush for 1,500 career yards.
Hardesty rushed for 1,046 yards in his first three seasons and worked primarily as a goalline back in 2008, scoring six touchdowns.
Thanks in large part to Hardesty, the Vols are rolling up an average of 204 yards per game on the ground through three contests and have scored six rushing touchdowns.
The Vols ranked seventh in the SEC and 27th in the nation in rushing offense.
Berry Active NCAA Leader in Interceptions
Junior safety Eric Berry snagged his 13th career interception vs. Florida, making him the active career leader in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision along with Greg James of Louisiana-Monroe, who has played 10 more games in his career than Berry.
Berry also moved into a four-way tie for sixth place on the UT all-time list with his second-career pick of Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. He is now tied with Bobby Majors (1969-71), Charles Davis (1983-86) and DeRon Jenkins (1996-99).
The Fairburn, Ga., native also led the team with 11 tackles, including two for a loss, vs. Florida. It was his second-straight game leading the Vols in stops and his sixth career double-digit tackle game (second of the season). He currently ranks ninth in the SEC in tackles with 24 (8.0 per game).
Offensive Line Solid Through Inexperience, Injuries
Tennessee has an experienced starter returning in three of the five offensive line positions. In all, the three returning lettermen have combined for 54 starts and are led by senior Chris Scott's 29-game start streak. Cody Sullins and Jarrod Shaw are both first-year starters.
The Vols have used the same starting lineup in all three games and the continuity is starting to have an affect as the Vols have allowed an average of 1.33 sacks per game and rushed for 204 yards per contest.
Brown Continues to Impress
Complimenting senior tailback Montario Hardesty in the UT backfield is true freshman Bryce Brown, who signed with Tennessee as the No. 1-ranked recruit in the nation in the 2009 class.
Through three games, Brown has carried 30 times for 159 yards and one touchdown, good for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. He has also demonstrated a willingness to find contact, leveling several bruising hits on defenders in both the Western Kentucky and UCLA games.
At Florida, Brown demonstrated a new dimension to his game by catching three passes for 34 yards to lead the team in receptions and receiving yards. For the Florida game as a whole, Brown averaged 5.3 yards per offensive touch.
In the WKU game, Brown and fellow true freshman tailback David Oku became the first freshmen runners to score a touchdown in their debut since Aaron Hayden and James Stewart did so vs. Louisville in 1991.
WR Jones Returns with Two Catches
Junior wideout Gerald Jones returned to the stat sheet vs. Florida with two catches for 25 yards after missing the season opener with an ankly injury and playing sparingly vs. UCLA.
Jones was the Vols leading receiver last season with 30 catches for 323 yards and four touchdowns. He led the team or tied for team lead in receptions in seven games last season.
Jones has in front of him the task of shoring up a wide receiving unit that has seen no clear leader or playmaker emerge through three games.
Senior wideout Quintin Hancock has been the most consistent, catching 11 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown after not catching a pass in 2008. He tied his career-high for receptions with five in both the Western Kentucky and UCLA games.
The Vols other starter, true freshman Marsalis Teague, has not caught a pass since the season opener.
Tracking The True Freshmen
Tennessee has played multiple true freshmen in each of its first three games. The Vols played 11 true freshmen vs. Western Kentucky, eight in the UCLA game and nine at Florida. Among those freshmen in all three games were offensive standouts Bryce Brown, David Oku, Nu'Keese Richardson and Marsalis Teague.
The all-purpose yardage tally for the group is at 576 yards, including 139 yards from Oku and Brown in the Florida game. In addition to their offensive duties, Oku returns kickoffs along with Dennis Rogan and Richardson returns punts.
Kiffin's Defense Strong Through Three Games
Through three contests, the Tennessee defense ranks statistically among the best in the Southeastern Conference and the nation in both passing defense and total defense. The Vols are ranked fourth in the nation and first in the league at 88.3 passing yards per game and fifth in the nation and second in the league at 197.33 total yards per game.
The Vols also rank 12th in the nation in tackles for loss with 25, including eight in the Florida game, and 11th in the nation in sacks with 10 after posting three at Florida.
In the UCLA contest, the Vols did not allow the Bruins a first down on six of 13 possessions and added another five tackles for loss and two sacks.
In the season opener vs. WKU, Monte Kiffin's defense allowed 83 yards of total offense and posted 12 tackles for loss and five sacks.
WKU's 34 rushing yards were the fewest since UT allowed Vanderbilt just 25 yards in 2008. WKU's 49 passing yards were the fewest allowed by UT since South Carolina threw for just 45 yards in 2002. Tennessee had not held an opponent to fewer than 100 total yards since Arkansas gained just 92 yards in 2001.
UT Opponents Scoreless in Fourth Quarter
Through three games, Monte Kiffin's Tennessee defense has yet to allow a single point to be scored on it in the fourth quarter. The Vols' defense gets better as the game goes on and has kept Tennessee in each of its two losses by limiting yards and forcing turnovers in the final frame.
Defensive Line Making Plays
The UT defensive line was expected to be somewhat of a question mark entering the 2009 season, but through two games, the Vols are among the national leaders in sacks and tackles for loss.
Tennessee's 10 sacks and 25 tackles for loss rank in the top 20 nationally. The defensive line is responsible for 10.5 of the TFLs and eight of the 10 sacks.
Chris Walker has emerged as the star of the unit, posting two sacks at Florida to give him four on the season. That mark ranks seventh in the nation.
The unit also features seniors Dan Williams and Wes Brown inside along with juniors Ben Martin and Gerald Williams on the ends. Freshmen Montori Hughes and Willie Bohannon along with senior Andre Mathis provide depth in the group.
Defense Relying on New Faces
UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin certainly has leadership and experience he can depend on within his unit. The Vols, however, are also relying heavily on a number of players who have not contributed in past seasons or are new to the program.
The UT participation report from the UCLA game, the Vols' first true test of the season, noted six new starters and an additional 10 backups who had not previously played significant snaps in their careers. Among those 16 players, 10 were either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores.
At Florida, the Vols saw another new face step up as true freshman Greg King filled in nicely for an injurued LaMarcus Thompson at linebacker, posting one tackle for loss.
Cunningham Takes Over Punting Duties
For the first time since 2000, Tennessee entered a football season without a Colquitt on the roster and handling the punting duties. Replacing the departed Britton Colquitt in 2009 is Chad Cunningham, who handled the punting duties for five games in 2008 while Colquitt served a suspension.
After not having to punt in the season opener, Cunningham has kicked six times for a 44.5-yard average. He kicked three times for a 49.5-yard average vs. UCLA, which was the best single game average of his career. He also connected on a 57-yard boot, which tied a career long (at Auburn, 2008).
Rogan A Kick Return Threat
Defensive back Dennis Rogan now stands in fourth place on UT's career kickoff return list with 1,133 total yards. Rogan's career average of 25.75 yards per kickoff return ranks second in school history.
For his career, the Knoxville native has 1,365 combined kick and punt return yards and that mark is sixth place on the Tennessee career list.
Rogan averaged 24.9 yards per kickoff return in 2008 after posting the third-best single-season mark in school history in 2007 at 29.5 yards per return.
Rogan's finished the 2008 season with 698 kickoff return yards, which is a single-season record at Tennessee. His 28 returns also tied a school record.