Nov. 22, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
For 19 Tennessee players, Saturday's 31-16 victory over Vanderbilt was their final game in Neyland Stadium. For redshirt junior kicker Devin Mathis, it was his first.
Mathis took over placekicking duties from Daniel Lincoln, who has struggled with a quadriceps injury and had several attempts blocked.
The Chattanooga native spent two seasons as a walk-on kicker, but left the team during the spring to study abroad in Monterrey, Mexico. Mathis is a double major in Spanish and logistics wanted to immerse himself in the language.
Saturday night, though, he was immersed in football. About three weeks ago, he talked to Kyle Strongin, UT's coordinator of football operations, about possibly rejoining the team. He'd seen the Vols' struggles on field goals and wanted to see if he could help.
"It's incredible," Mathis said. "I never thought this would happen. It's been a quick three weeks, and now we're in the game."
Aside from kicking in the spring game and last fall's JV game against Hargrave Military, Mathis had limited experience in Neyland Stadium.
Against Vanderbilt, he trumped all that with a 25-yard field goal. He also hit all four of his extra point attempts.
"I was blown away," said Mathis. "That's what I've wanted for the last few years. This is a new coaching staff willing to give a walk-on a look.
"I think it just shows if you're the man for the job and you'll put in the time and the effort, they'll use you somehow."
M.A.S.H. Up: After cornerback Art Evans left the game with an injury, safety Eric Berry and linebacker Rico McCoy were the only first-team players from the beginning of the season playing at their normal position on defense outside of the defensive line.
Corner Dennis Rogan started at safety in place of Prentiss Waggner, who started last week at Ole Miss in place of Janzen Jackson.
Herman Lathers, who began the year as the Vols' third-team middle linebacker, started his third game there Saturday.
"I thought some guys stepped up, some guys who maybe weren't familiar names were out there on defense," Kiffin said. "We only gave up one touchdown on defense. We were able to play pretty well in the red zone for the most part. We would have liked to play better, but it was good to see some things today and at the end of the day to win for our seniors and for our fans."
Tennessee's injury woes kept going on Saturday, too.
Evans (shoulder) did not return and his status is uncertain for UT's final game of the regular season on Saturday against Kentucky. King also suffered a shoulder injury and did not return. Walk-on Shane Reveiz took his place the rest of the way and would likely serve as King's replacement if he can't play against Kentucky.
Start It Up: The final portion Phase III of renovations to Neyland Stadium will begin Monday and are scheduled to be complete by the start of next season.
Included in this portion of renovations are the Tennessee Terrace seating area on the west side of the stadium, a brick and wrought iron façade on the west exterior of the stadium and construction of a Gate 21 entry plaza.
Crompton's pick came on his 24th attempt against Vanderbilt and was tipped by tailback David Oku. His last interception came on his sixth pass against Alabama.
Crompton's 221 yards passing moved him into 10th all time on UT's single-season passing list. He now has 2,345 yards this season.
Another Big Play for Stocker: Tight end Luke Stocker's 16-yard touchdown pass just before halftime was his fourth touchdown of the season, tied for fourth on the team.
He finished with a career-high five receptions for 47 yards.
Bowl Bound: The Vols (6-5) became bowl eligible with Saturday's win, the eighth time since 2008 they've earned a postseason berth.
"It's very important because of the practice and to be able to continue to develop our young players and to continue to develop as a staff together," Kiffin said. "The more time we get with our young players, it's very critical for us."
If Tennessee finishes 7-5, it could possibly play in the Outback Bowl or Chick-fil-A Bowl. Bowl bids will be extended following conference championship games.