Staff Photo by Angela Lewis / Chattanooga Times Free Press - Tennessee coach Derek Dooley talks to Prentiss Waggner, left, and Eric Gordon, 24,Saturday in Neyland Stadium
KNOXVILLE — Hours and hours of preseason work dedicated to improving special teams didn’t produce much improvement early in the University of Tennessee’s Saturday opener against UT-Martin.
Senior wide receiver Gerald Jones muffed and ultimately lost the Volunteers’ first punt-return opportunity of the season, giving UT-Martin the ball inside UT territory. The Vols lined up illegally on a Daniel Lincoln field goal late in the first quarter.
UT’s defense held the Skyhawks to a four-and-out on that drive, and Lincoln made his lengthened field goal, but that barely eased first-year Vols coach Derek Dooley’s frustrations.
Sophomore tailback David Oku also bobbled, but recovered, a kick return after the Vols recorded a safety late in the third quarter.
Chad Cunningham’s punting was an early bright spot, though. The much maligned senior averaged 44.3 yards on three first-half kicks, knocking two inside the 20-yard line.
Lincoln also was sharp, connecting on both field-goal attempts — 3-for-3, including one nullified by a penalty — and every extra point try.
Vols senior wide receiver Denarius Moore scored long two touchdowns in less than two minutes early in the third quarter. He took a jet-sweep carry 58 yards to the end zone with 12:15 left in the period, and he caught a 42-yard pass from Matt Simms with 10:27 left.
Those plays totaled an even 100 yards. Moore finished with 66 yards on four catches and that 58-yard rush.
Smith, Rogers involved
UT freshman defensive end Jacques Smith, a highly touted signee from Ooltewah High School, tackled Tevin Barksdale after a 1-yard gain on the final play of the first half. He also stopped a UT-Martin wide receiver short of a first down in the open field on a third-and-9 play late in the third quarter.
The 6-foot-2, 248-pound Smith has impressed coaches since enrolling in January and participating in spring practice.
Wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, a five-star, All-America signee from Calhoun (Ba.) High, caught a 9-yard pass for a first down at the UT-Martin 13 in the first quarter.
This and that
UT senior Victor Thomas, who played center in spring practice, started alongside sophomore Montori Hughes at defensive tackle. As expected, several Vols rotated in at that position throughout the game. ... Senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz, senior defensive end Chris Walker and senior wide receiver Gerald Jones were the Vols’ game captains. ... UT-Martin won the coin toss and deferred its choice to the second half, giving UT the ball to start the game. The Skyhawks pooched the opening kickoff, and backup tight end Mychal Rivera’s short return gave UT the ball at its own 35.
Senior fullback Kevin Cooper, a former Baylor School standout, caught a 4-yard pass for a first down on third-and-4 near midfield. The Vols punted on that drive, though. Cooper also caught a 9-yard pass in the flat midway through the third quarter. ... Freshman tailback Rajion Neal entered the game before redshirt freshman Toney Williams late in the third quarter, getting stopped at the line of scrimmage on the final play of the period.
UTM coach Jason Simpson challenged a 36-yard reception by UT senior receiver Jones midway through the third quarter, but the gain stood. Jones dinged his left wrist on the play. ... As most expected, Cunningham handled kickoff duties. He and touted freshman Michael Palardy’s battle for the job continued into last week.
Defensive back Roland James and offensive lineman Michael Munoz were honored as UT’s legends of the game.
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