KNOXVILLE — Prentiss Waggner didn’t know he’d broken a record until he stepped out of the shower Saturday afternoon.
Half and hour after the Tennessee football team pummeled Ole Miss into a 52-14 pulp, a teammate told the Volunteers’ sophomore cornerback that his third interception-return touchdown of the season was a program record. The former record was held by several former Vols, including recent All-America safety Eric Berry.
“It’s a big accomplishment, and a big honor,” Waggner said. “I’m going to have call Eric Berry up later on tonight and tell him about it. He’s in second place now.”
The 6-foot-2, 181-pound Waggner intercepted 16 passes as a junior at Clinton (La.) High School, and he picked off nine as a senior. He was named all-state on both sides of the ball and Louisiana’s Class 2A defensive MVP after both years.
Waggner wasn’t a good tackler at safety, but he was a big-play magnet. A recent move to corner, probably his most natural position, removed some of his tackling responsibilities but kept him near the ball several times per game.
“Prentiss is an instinctive guy,” coach Derek Dooley said. “Some guys have a knack, and Prentiss just has a knack. If he see it, if he gets a beat on the quarterback and the receiver and makes the right jump, he’s there. Sometimes you can be too aggressive and you give up a big play, but Prentiss seems to have a pretty good knack. He recovered both fumbles last week.
“There’s just always those kinds of guys that are always around the football. That’s what it is.”
“It seems like I’m always around the ball,” Waggner said. “It’s by the grace of God that I’m always around for those big plays, but I’ll take it any way I can get it.”
Saturday’s 10-yard touchdown return early in the third quarter extended UT’s lead to 38-14 and essentially removed any remote chance of an Ole Miss comeback.
“That play was pretty much instincts,” Waggner said. “We were in cover-4, and the receiver tried to run me off. I saw the D-line get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and I saw the running back slip out, so I knew it was going to be sort of a slip screen.
“I sort of jumped it, and the quarterback overthrew the running back, and I happened to make the play.”
Redshirt freshman cornerback Eric Gordon had a 46-yard interception return that gave UT a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter.
The Vols tried a new punt-returning strategy with a 45-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. They didn’t use a returner, despite no threat of a fake on a fourth-and-37.
Dooley just didn’t trust anyone on his team to catch the kick.
Janzen Jackson injured his ankle in the third quarter and didn’t return after muffing his second punt of the game. The Vols recovered both blunders, but Dooley is mystified by his team’s inability to catch punts.
Senior wide receiver Gerald Jones and Gordon, who left Saturday’s game with a concussion, also have muffed punts this season.
“It was the only way we were going to lose the game, go fumble a punt,” Dooley said. “I know that’s kind of ridiculous for a major college football team, but that’s where we are. I don’t have one guy that I have confidence in, so I don’t know what else to do.”
Dooley said Jackson’s ankle injury didn’t seem “too serious,” but he added that there’s always at least some concern when your “best player” goes down.
“Janzen is a really tough guy, and he told me he was OK, so I’m sure he’s fine,” Waggner said. “I was happy to hear him say that.”
This and that
True freshman safety Brent Brewer, a 22-year-old former professional baseball player, led the Vols with eight tackles, five unassisted. Waggner and sophomore weakside linebacker Herman Lathers added six each.
UT senior tight end Luke Stocker, who was questionable all week after sustaining a concussion at Memphis, started and caught four passes for 40 yards. His backup, junior Mychal Rivera, added 36 yards on two catches. ... Sophomore receiver Zach Rogers, like Gordon, left the game with a concussion and didn’t return. Dooley said he thought both players “probably” would be back for next week’s game at Vanderbilt.
Daryl Vereen, a rarely used Vols junior, started in place of senior LaMarcus Thompson at strongside linebacker. Vereen finished with three tackles, and Thompson had two. ... Senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz, senior receiver Jones and junior defensive tackle Malik Jackson were UT’s game captains.
Former offensive lineman Jason Layman and former running back William Howard were honored as UT’s legends of the game. Howard wore a No. 76 jersey to honor the recently deceased Harry Galbreath, a former Vols and NFL star who also worked for UT’s strength and conditioning department.