KNOXVILLE - It won't always be as easy for Justin Worley as it was Saturday night, but the Tennessee quarterback likely won't complain.
The junior, named the starter at the beginning of the week, was an efficient 11-of-13 passing for 104 yards and three touchdowns as the Volunteers breezed past visiting Austin Peay 45-0 at Neyland Stadium.
"I thought Justin managed the game outstanding," Butch Jones said after his debut as Tennessee's coach. "He hit a couple of hot throws when he was hot. I thought he had great command.
"I thought he had great poise, and I told him, 'You can't be emotional. You have to be the coach. It's like a surgeon. You had to poised and disciplined,' and I thought he was."
The Volunteers scored touchdowns on all six of Worley's series at quarterback, and his only incompletions were a dropped deep ball to freshman Marquez North and an overthrow in the end zone intended for Jacob Carter. He threw touchdown passes to Pig Howard, Devrin Young and tight end Brendan Downs. That third one started with Downs crossing the field behind the offensive line, a play Tennessee has run many times throughout preseason practice.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Worley orchestrated a half in which Tennessee avoided a penalty and a turnover.
Backup quarterback Nathan Peterman started the second half at quarterback.
Youth is served
Eleven true freshmen, and 12 players in Tennessee's 2013 recruiting class, played Saturday night.
The debutants were receivers Marquez North, Josh Smith, Paul Harris, and Johnathon Johnson (a junior college transfer); tight end A.J. Branisel; linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin; defensive backs Cam Sutton, Malik Foreman, Devaun Swafford and Lemond Johnson; and defensive linemen Jaylen Miller and Jason Carr.
"Everything is a learning experience, especially with the younger players," Jones said. "I'm going to tell you, that preseason practice that we did and 39,000 people showed up, we benefited from that tonight. You could see the benefits of that, especially with our younger players.
"I thought that was a benefit to this football team and developing our younger players."
Tennessee played 17 true freshmen in 2010, 15 in 2011 and 10 last season for a three-year total of 42.
Tennessee's second pass of the game was the deep shot to North, and though the ball was slightly underthrown, the touted freshman couldn't come up with would've been a 45-yard reception.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder from Charlotte made up for it a series later, catching three passes for 33 yards, including a 23-yard reception on a slant route that set up tailback Marlin Lane's scoring run a play later. The Vols threw two easy short hook routes to North to get him the first and second grabs of his career.
"I'll know a little bit more when I watch the film, but I thought he played hard," Jones said. "We expect and demand a lot from our receivers, not just from the terms of receptions, but also blocking. I thought he did some good things and [there were] a lot of good things to build upon."
Howard, who also caught three passes, beat his defender in single coverage on a route over the middle on his touchdown catch.
Jason Croom didn't have a catch Saturday night, but he threw a key block on Rajion Neal's 47-yard touchdown run and drew a pass-interference penalty in the end zone that kept alive another eventual touchdown drive.
On some early third-down plays, Tennessee's defense used a formation with three down defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. With converted safety Brent Brewer playing outside linebacker, the Vols essentially had six defensive backs on the field.
Brewer blitzed off the edge in a couple of those scenarios. Defensive coordinator John Jancek named the senior among his better pass rushers after practice earlier in the week.
Austin Peay's only real scoring threat of the first half, which ended in Walter Spears' missed 31-yard field-goal attempt, came against many of the Vols' second-team defenders.
The secondary included walk-on Max Arnold at safety and freshman Malik Foreman and freshman walk-on Devaun Swafford, who were teammates at Kingsport's Dobyns-Bennett High School, at cornerback and nickelback.
Andrew Spivey, the Govs' quarterback, hit on passes of 12, 14, 5, 6 and 35 yards before three incompletions halted the drive.
Foreman was in one-on-one coverage when Darryl Clark hauled in Jacob Sexton's deep pass for a 33-yard gain midway through the third quarter, but he intercepted a pass inside the 10 to end that same drive early in the fourth.
Linebacker Curt Maggitt was limited throughout practice this week and did not play in Saturday night's opener as he continues to recover from a torn ACL.
"We made that decision on Friday," Jones said, "and we know it'll be an ongoing process. Is he better right now than he was last week at this time? Absolutely. He's getting real close."
Freshman receiver Ryan Jenkins, who has missed the past couple weeks of practice, also didn't play. Linebacker Justin King sat out as well.
Defensive ends Jacques Smith (thumb) and Corey Vereen (knee) and cornerback Riyahd Jones (right calf) were ruled out earlier in the week, though Smith is expected to return this week against Western Kentucky and Vereen is ahead of schedule in his recovery.
Tennessee's captains for the game were quarterback Worley, linebackers Dontavis Sapp and A.J. Johnson and guard Zach Fulton. ... North was the first freshman receiver to start a season opener since Marsalis Teague in 2009, and Sutton was the first freshman to start an opener at cornerback since Justin Coleman in 2011. ... Tennessee's 42 first-half points were the most before halftime since the Memphis game in 2010, which was Tyler Bray's first start at quarterback.