KNOXVILLE - Turnovers marred the University of Tennessee football team's first quarter against Western Kentucky on Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium, but the Volunteers surged ahead in the second quarter and kept pulling away for a sound 63-7 win.
Much-maligned UT quarterback Jonathan Crompton opened his senior season with a career day, completing 21 of 28 passes for 233 yards and five touchdowns. Two interceptions slightly spoiled a statistically-sound performance, but Crompton rallied after the second and made some of his best throws before leaving early in the fourth quarter.
Saturday's attendance was officially listed in five-figures at 98,761. Most figured six-figure-capacity Neyland would be full for Kiffin's debut, but Western Kentucky's small representation didn't help the situation.
Crompton engineered four second-quarter scoring drives, finishing the last three with touchdown passes of 17, 9 and 4 yards to Luke Stocker, Quintin Hancock and Brandon Warren. Freshman tailback Bryce Brown opened scoring two plays into the second period with a 2-yard run.
The Vols outgained the Hilltoppers 297-9 in the first half. Crompton threw an early interception but rebounded to finish the first half 14-of-17 for 131 yards through the air. Senior tailback Montario Hardesty had 110 yards on 14 first-half carries, and Brown went to the break with 44 yards on seven carries.
Hardesty finished with 160 yards on 18 carries, while Brown added 104 yards on just 11 carries and fellow true freshman David Oku chipped in two second-half scores.
Hardesty opened second-half scoring with a 43-yard run midway through the third quarter. That was UT's second one-play touchdown drive (Stocker's score was the first).
Western Kentucky had 16 yards of total offense and one first down before putting together a nine-play, 66-yard touchdown drive late in the third quarter. Bobby Rainey ran 19 yards up the gut to get the Hilltoppers within 35-7 with 2:41 left in the third, but the Vols responded with two quick touchdowns to take a 49-7 lead early in the fourth.
Junior backup Nick Stephens relieved Crompton after the starter fired his fifth touchdown toss with 13:13 left in the game.
Senior linebacker Rico McCoy led the Vols with five first-half tackles, while Western Kentucky's Jihad Morris had a game-high nine stops at that point.
UT's first two possessions started well but ended with turnovers. Crompton had a tipped pass intercepted by Hilltoppers true freshman cornerback Jamal Forrest on the Vols' first drive, but that didn't end the play. Bryce Brown promptly jarred the ball from Forrest, but linebacker Mike Gothard recovered it to give WKU possession near midfield with 11:22 left in the opening quarter.
UT's second possession started with similar promise and ended in similar frustration. Hardesty fumbled moments after catching a short Crompton pass in the flat, and WKU strong safety John Garrett scooped it up before rumbling 13 yards toward midfield. Gothard forced the fumble for his second huge play in the first eight minutes.
The only real surprise in UT's starting lineup was senior Marsalous Johnson getting the nod over sophomore Anthony Anderson and freshman Mike Edwards at cornerback. As expected, junior Dennis Rogan started over freshman Janzen Jackson at free safety.
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