Nothing like your first time
By Grant Ramey | (email@example.com)
The term ‘first’ was being thrown around a lot in and around Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
It was Butch Jones’ first career game as Tennessee’s head coach, a 45-0 dismantling off an extremely overmatched Austin Peay team. But the final score wasn’t the story. The frequent firsts were.
“Ten true freshmen played tonight, eight redshirt freshmen, so a total of 18 freshmen played,” Jones said after his first win with the Vols. “Twenty-two made their debut.”
But, despite one of the youngest depth charts in college football, Jones said he wanted a clean game from his fresh-faced roster. He got that and then some.
Zero penalties committed. Zero points allowed. A perfect 6-for-6 in red zone opportunities, 211 total yards from the opponent and just 2-of-12 on third downs for the visitors.
“I didn’t want 10 men on the field, I didn’t want to call unnecessary timeouts,” Jones, who, for the record, didn’t call his first until the third quarter, said. “I thought our special teams did great in terms of getting the right people on the field.”
With memories of the last coaching staff still fresh on the minds of Tennessee fans, that in itself should be considered a first.
Among the debuts Saturday on Shields-Watkins Field were freshmen receivers Marquez North, who started, and Josh Smith, who worked in with the second rotation. Both recorded their first career catches in the second quarter. Later it was Johnathon Johnson, a sophomore transfer, who recorded two catches on the night.
Devrin Young, a running back last year who’s since been converted to slot receiver, caught his first career touchdown pass in the first quarter.
Redshirt freshman Jason Croom and sophomore Pig Howard made their first career starts. Back-up quarterback Nathan Peterman, who was a redshirt as a true freshman in 2012, saw his first game action.
There were first career tackles for freshmen defensive backs Malik Foreman — who later added an interception and Devaun Swafford, among a host of others on the defensive side.
Then there was the off-field firsts for Jones and his team. The Vol Walk. The pregame locker room. Running through the ‘T.’
There was plenty taken away from those firsts, too.
“For me, the greatest sense or piece of mind I have is how proud they were to show me the Vol Walk, how proud they were to run through the ‘T,’” Jones said.
“You could see that pride of who we are coming out, and that’s what we have here.”
Sure, Tennessee only put a field goal on the scoreboard in the second half, after the 42-point explosion in the first two quarters. But that was already being addressed late Saturday night.
“Second half, we have to do better,” Jones said. “Even though we made some changes, the standard and expectation does not change.
“I talk to our players all the time about consistency in performance. This is just one game. We have a lot of work to do.”
That work begins immediately, as Tennessee’s turns the page on the schedule to the next opponent.
No penalties, all those points, a shutout, that was all a nice start for the Jones Era, but against a team like Austin Peay, all of that, save for the lack of penalties, was a given.
The competition level steps up considerably next week, when former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino brings his Western Kentucky team to Knoxville.
“We have an extremely, extremely talented opponent coming in here next Saturday,” Jones said. “We have to continue to get better, and we have to roll our sleeves up and come to work tomorrow.”
But for Saturday, at least, it wasn’t a bad first.
Grant Ramey is an award-winning sports writer for The Daily Times. Follow him on Twitter @GrantRamey