Tennessee runningback Brandon Warren (1) falls across the goal line as he is hit by Shane Reveiz (45) during the first half of the spring Orange and White game Saturday, April 18, 2009, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE — Lane Kiffin got the setting he wanted Saturday afternoon.
Construction-altered Neyland Stadium held 51,488 fans on a postcard perfect day. Most of them arrived hours earlier, giving the University of Tennessee campus a legitimately fall feel for the Orange and White spring game.
Kiffin said he and the rest of his first-year coaching staff were “blown away” by the environment.
“Most of our players have been through this,” Kiffin said. “But for our staff — and I tell you, we’ve had a lot of coaches that have been to a lot of really good places and won a lot of games — but when we got done with that Vol Walk and came in the locker room ... I had some guys come up to me and say, ‘Man, I’ve never seen anything like that.’ And these are guys that have been to some really special places, so it was really neat.
“The energy out there was unbelievable. I really want to thank our fans. That was exactly what we needed today. We needed that environment, because we needed to find out, amongst our players, who was going to thrive in that environment.”
B.J. Coleman, for one, thrived in that environment.
The sophomore from Chattanooga led the UT offense to three scores on his only three possessions as quarterback, tossing two touchdown passes to help the offense defeat the defense 41-23.
Coaches limited both sides schematically in hopes of preventing next season’s first few opponents from seeing too much on video. Offensive points were measured in traditional increments, while the defense was awarded three points for every stopped series, five points for every turnover forced and seven points for every touchdown.
Coleman, a McCallie School graduate, completed 13 of 22 passes for 160 yards and no turnovers. He had a third touchdown, a 13-yard strike to Denarius Moore, called back for an offensive-line penalty.
He was, as he had been in the previous two scrimmages, the Volunteers’ most efficient quarterback.
But neither Coleman, Jonathan Crompton nor Nick Stephens will head into summer conditioning with an understanding of their fall roles. Kiffin, as expected, said he wasn’t ready to name a starter, though he complimented Coleman’s performance.
“He looked good today. Again,” Kiffin said. “It was the second time in the stadium in a row that he’s looked good. He seems to have some game presence about him. When we get out here, he seems to play better than he does in practice, so that was good to see.”
Coleman felt good about the momentum he’ll carry into the summer.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot of respect from those guys on the offensive and defensive side of the football,” he said. “My goal is to be a leader at the quarterback position. It’s been instilled in me all my life.
“It’s very important that I be the leader and be the example for these guys. I feel like I can absolutely do that.”
Crompton had his moments, too, completing 14 of 27 passes for 143 yards and one touchdown. But he also had the day’s lone turnover, though Kiffin said the interception “wasn’t Jonathan’s fault.”
Stephens, who has been hampered by a wrist injury all spring, completed 11 of 21 passes for 131 yards.
“I’ve got to go to the film to really break them down, exactly, because there’s so much going on out there that you’re watching,” Kiffin said. “But I thought they protected the ball well, and it seemed like they made good decisions, for the most part.”
Fan appreciation dayThousands attended fan appreciation day at the University of Tennessee Saturday to get autographs from their favorite players and coaches prior to the annual Orange and White game.