KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin’s tenure on Rocky Top is off to a smooth start.
Jonathan Crompton threw five touchdown passes Saturday, leading the Volunteers to a 63-7 rout of Football Bowl Subdivision newcomers Western Kentucky and their largest margin of victory in nine years.
“This is the way that we expect to play,” Kiffin said. “We have high expectations here. I just talked to them about understanding that was one game and it’s over. We’ve got to find a way to play better next week.”
In its first two drives, Tennessee looked as if it hadn’t learned much under Kiffin, the youngest active coach in the division. Crompton threw a pass over the middle that was easily tipped by Thomas Majors and intercepted by Jamal Forrest, and Montario Hardesty fumbled after a hard hit.
The Vols settled down after the first quarter, and Hardesty carried for 18 and 22 yards to help set up a 2-yard touchdown run by freshman Bryce Brown early in the second quarter.
Bobby Rainey fumbled on the Hilltoppers’ next play, and LaMarcus Thompson recovered for Tennessee. Crompton connected with Luke Stocker on his first of two TD catches to make it 14-0 only 7 seconds later.
“We played one quarter of decent football, and then I think for the next three quarters were physically dominated,” Western Kentucky coach Dave Elson said.
Tennessee’s defense looked every bit the stalwart it was in 2008, while the offense found the composure it was missing in last year’s 5-7 season. Running backs broke through the line of scrimmage, wide receivers ran sound routes and Crompton threw accurately.
“We really just tried to get our personality as a team on film. We wanted to be physical but smart. The game we just played is part of our resume, and we want to build that resume and send it out to our opponents,” Vols safety Eric Berry said.
The receiving corps hardly looked depleted by injuries, with Stocker, Marsalis Teague, Quintin Hancock and Brandon Warren each catching scoring strikes.
Crompton, who was pulled with 12:26 left in the game, finished 21 of 28 with two picks, and his five TD passes was one more than his output last season. Hardesty finished with 160 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, and Brown had 104 yards rushing and a touchdown on 11 attempts.
The Hilltoppers couldn’t capitalize on the early turnovers and had minus-21 yards after their first 19 plays. Tennessee finished with 657 yards compared to Western Kentucky’s 83.
Rainey had the Hilltoppers’ only score on a 19-yard run with 2:41 in the third quarter that made it 35-7.
The win was the Vols’ easiest since a 70-3 victory over Louisiana-Monroe in 2000. Their 380 yards rushing were the most since 2004.
The Vols were also joined by former Vols and current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who before the game announced a $1 million gift for a new athletic training center.
Though the attendance in the 100,011-capacity Neyland Stadium only reached 98,761, the fans turned out in droves as Kiffin and the Vols made the traditional “Vol Walk” from their buses to the stadium before the game.
“I really had to make sure that I did not go up and down today, because that’s what I talked about with our team a long time last night — dealing with the emotions of a wonderful scene like the Vol Walk, a wonderful event like running through the ’T’ and playing in front of 100,000 people,” Kiffin said.
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