published Sunday, September 6th, 2009

Wiedmer: Southeastern Conference had better get used to runaway Lane Train

Audio clip

Bryce Brown

KNOXVILLE -- Nick Reveiz has spent a good portion of his 21 years in and around the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium. The son of legendary Volunteers kicker Fuad Reveiz, the junior linebacker has seen the Big Orange football program from a perspective few of his teammates can appreciate.

So when Nick admitted late Saturday afternoon, the Vols' 63-7 victory over Western Kentucky on ice, "I kind of teared up during the Vol Walk," it carries extra weight.

He added of UT's traditional pregame march through its fans: "It's the most energy I've ever felt out there."

It's easy to generate energy among 98,761 Volniacs when you're hanging 63 points on some overmatched foe. Especially when last season ended 5-7.

So even if the first win of the Lane Kiffin era was overflowing with energy not seen inside Neyland since the 1990s -- especially during the final three periods, when the Big Orange turned a scoreless first quarter into its widest victory margin since a 70-3 victory over Louisiana-Monroe in 2000 -- it's wise to keep in mind that WKU was 2-10 a year ago.

Heck, Western might be the worst Football Bowl Subdivision team in the country, at least partly because this is its first season as a FBS school. And given that, the lesson learned this perfect autumn afternoon wasn't necessarily that these Vols might be pretty good, because we won't really begin to know that until UCLA visits next weekend.

Instead, what we learned was just how good this program is going to be in the future as Kiffin's grand plan takes hold.

After all, for all the justifiable praise of senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton's five touchdown passes and senior running back Montario Hardesty's 160 rushing yards, the best reason for the Big Orange Nation to feel good about life beyond 2009 came from its callow true freshmen.

There was regal running back Bryce Brown's 104 rushing yards, including a gaudy 9.5 average and a touchdown, and his bruising tackle of Jamal Forrest after the Hilltopper intercepted a Crompton pass.

"We play offense; they play defense. That's our ball as far as I'm concerned," said Brown, who knocked the ball loose from Forrest before another WKU player recovered.

There was fellow freshman running back David Oku, who scored two touchdowns, then said of the surprisingly easy victory, "Coach Kiffin said all the hard work would pay off, and it has. I think this sends a strong message to the next bunch of recruits. If Coach says he'll get you ready, he'll get you ready."

Finally, there was freshman wideout Marsalis Teague, who wound up starting, unlike Brown and Oku.

"Marsalis was not a freshman today," Kiffin said after the Paris, Tenn., resident caught six passes for 86 yards and a touchdown. "He did not look like a freshman. I was most proud of Marsalis of all those (young) guys."

All those young guys are proud of Kiffin today for something else, however. And that something else is why the Big Orange Nation should remain ecstatic over his hiring. And why the rest of the SEC should prepare to loathe Lane more than ever in the years to come.

"He told us we'd get a chance to play and we did," Brown said. "It shows how honest the coaching staff is."

Added Oku: "Coach Kiffin's football IQ is way genius, out of this world."

It doesn't take genius for an SEC program to beat Western Kentucky 63-7. Genius would be carrying Florida into the fourth quarter. Or Alabama. Or Ole Miss.

That said, did anyone walk out of Neyland Stadium Saturday afternoon believing the Vols would have forged a a 56-point victory margin if Phillip Fulmer and his staff were still running this program?

And to his credit, Kiffin never dared flash even the slightest hint of a Steve Spurrier-esque smirk about his team's 657 yards of offense or his father Monte's ridiculously rigid defense, which held the Hilltoppers to 83 total yards.

Instead, he said, "I've never said how many games we're going to win or how good we're going to be. I've said we're going to be physical and play smart, and you saw that today."

To that end, when Brown ended a long run by dancing out of bounds, Kiffin briefly took him out, scolding him, "We don't run out of bounds at Tennessee."

The freshmen aside, what we most saw this day was a defense that looked like 1998 all over again. Only possibly better, at least as long as Eric Berry is in the game.

In fact, given that WKU totaled 6 yards of offense with Berry on the field, then scored a touchdown on its first possession when he took a rest, perhaps every touchdown a UT foe scores without Berry in action should come with an asterisk.

But for all the current energy about this year, what we most saw was the first glimpse of UT's football future.

"We can be as good as we want to be," the rookie Brown said.

For the first time in a long time, the rest of the SEC may have reason to believe him.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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moonpie said...

If Kiffen continues to keep his mouth shut, the program clean, and let the football speak for itself, I'll get on board the Lane Train.

Good to see him understated, for once.

September 6, 2009 at 10:01 a.m.
grandmastaj said...

I'm glad they can win the glorified scrimmages they're supposed to win. Let's see them beat a real team.

September 6, 2009 at 10:37 a.m.
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