KNOXVILLE - The publicity stunt looked good on paper. Lots of paper.
Utah State earlier this month printed 1,500 "Chuckie4Heisman" notepads to hype its dynamic senior quarterback, Chuckie Keeton. Heisman marketing tactics aren't used as much these days due to all the televised stages candidates have, and Sunday night's game at Tennessee on the SEC Network was a great opportunity for Keeton to make a dent in the Deep South voting block.
Except that Tennessee's defensive front of Corey Vereen, Jordan Williams, Danny O'Brien and true freshman Derek Barnett, viewed by many as the Volunteers' weak link, never gave him the chance.
Tennessee's defensive front dominated early and often during the 38-7 whipping of the Aggies, thus removing Keeton from the Heisman landscape before Labor Day.
"I thought we were very active," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "We were able to apply pressure to Chuckie Keeton, who's a great player."
Keeton rushed eight times for only 12 yards, and he was 18-of-35 passing for 144 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Barnett set the tone for Keeton's rough night by stuffing him for no gain on Utah State's second possession. The stop by Barnett occurred after the Volunteers had produced a 14-point outburst in the span of 14 seconds, but the Aggies showed signs of moving the ball early in the second quarter.
A 9-yard pass by Keeton gave the Aggies a third-and-1 from their 43-yard line, but a run by Joe Hill was stuffed for no gain by Barnett and linebacker A.J. Johnson. Utah State elected to go for it on fourth down, but Hill was thrown for a 1-yard loss by Williams.
Jones said that sequence flipped the momentum as well as field position, and it didn't hurt the confidence of a bunch of new starters hoping to make an impact.
"That was very important," Jones said. "I thought Derek Barnett played well as a true freshman making his first career start. I thought he did a very, very good job."
Utah State finished the first half with 13 rushes for 34 yards, 1-for-7 on third-down conversions and in a 17-0 hole.
It was more of the same through the third quarter, when the Aggies had a mere 151 yards and watched Tennessee take a 31-0 lead on the first play of the fourth. None of the defensive linemen were made available to the media after the game, but their defensive teammates appreciated their efforts.
"They did a great job of keeping their dual-threat quarterback in check," junior safety Brian Randolph said. "They did a good job of executing the game plan."
Said sophomore cornerback Cameron Sutton: "When we have a defensive line getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback, it makes our job a lot easier."
As well as making life easier for their coach.
"We're much more athletic up front, but you never know how they're going to perform until the lights go on," Jones said. "A lot of these individuals were performing for the first time, and, again, Derek Barnett really gave us some quality snaps."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.