Wiedmer: Foe aside, Vols start sharply for Jones

Wiedmer: Foe aside, Vols start sharply for Jones

September 1st, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

University of Tennessee head coach Butch Jones blows his whistle during pre-game warmups at Neyland Stadium Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - You don't need to reach the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee to know you can't correctly spell "Butch" without a U and a T.

After the debut first-year Tennessee football coach Butch Jones had against Austin Peay on Saturday night inside Neyland Stadium, no Big Orange football fan ever again may want to spell his head coach's first name any other way.

Talk about your perfect first impression. The Volunteers didn't just vaporize their in-state cousin Austin Peay, smacking the Governors around by a 45-0 final score, impressive as that was. UT led 42-zip at halftime without incurring a single penalty on the final, sticky night of August.

We repeat, ZERO penalties. For the first half. And the second half. Sixty minutes of flag-less football in a season opener that was pretty much decided before the game began.

"The big thing I wanted was a clean game," Jones said after the Vols' 800th all-time win. "Didn't want to have to call a timeout because we had 10 men on the field."

But just in case you don't think that's a strong enough sign of great coaching, perhaps you'll like this: Junior starting quarterback Justin Worley -- not always the fans' or sports writers' favorite (blush, blush) to earn the job -- led touchdowns on all six of the Vols' first-half possessions, then retired to the sideline for the evening.

"Justin managed the game outstanding," Jones said after his quarterback finished 11-for-13 with three touchdowns and no interceptions. "You can't be emotional. Have to handle the game like a surgeon."

More perfection? On the single occasion that the Governors had the best chance to score, reaching the UT 12 on the first snap of the fourth quarter, Vols reserve true freshman cornerback Malik Foreman perfectly cut in front of an out route to pick off the pass and end the threat.

Still more perfection? The Vols were 6-for-6 in the red zone.

Yet befitting a coach who never seems satisfied, Jones wants more.

"I'd still like to get a little bit faster," he said

He also wanted better play from the reserves.

Yet he also said how "proud he was" of the opening win, which included 10 true freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen playing meaningful minutes.

So what does this really mean for the 11 regular-season games to come? Are the Vols truly better or is Austin Peay as bad a foe as Tennessee may ever play?

Yes, the Govs likely are awful, just 2-9 a year ago and picked to finish last in the Ohio Valley Conference this season. This week's foe Western Kentucky -- which sprinted to a 21-10 lead over Kentucky early Saturday evening -- will be a much sterner test, especially with former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino on the opposite sideline.

And for all its grand work, the Vols did allow the Govs to control the football for nearly half the game, winning the time of possession by just 32 seconds (30:16 to 29:44).

"The biggest thing is to go back and watch the film and be very critical of ourselves technique-wise," said starting offensive tackle Tiny Richardson, sounding like a coach.

When told Jones had hoped they could play faster, fellow offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James said, "We can always get faster, but we did snap it 16 times with more than 20 seconds left on the play clock."

It's just one game. The players said it. The coach said.

"We still have a lot of work to do," they all observed, as if that had been part of the game plan.

But after rushing for 141 yards and tallying the opening touchdown of the 2013 season for Team 117, tailback Rajion Neal also made this observation concerning his new head coach: "I'm not going to lie. It's exciting. He gives you a giant boost."

For at least one incredibly successful opening game, that boost spells another word that needs both a U and a T -- undefeated.

Not that Jones would want to hear that.

"He doesn't want us too happy," defensive lineman Daniel Hood said. "He wants us focusing on Western Kentucky."

That's how you stay perfect from week one to week two.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com