KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Numbers don’t lie.
Just below the surface of Tennessee’s overwhelming 45-10 win over outmanned University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Saturday, statistics told the entire story and were reason enough for the Vols paying the Mocs $450,000 to wipe away memories of last week’s hard-to-swallow loss to Florida.
While tuning up for next week’s Southeastern Conference game against nationally ranked Ole Miss in Oxford, the Vols rang up 340 total yards of offense while the Orange Swarm defense held the Mocs to 201, just 96 through the air.
They’ll need more efforts like Saturday’s because the Vols’ enter another midseason grind by playing at No. 3 Ole Miss, host No. 7 Alabama and then travel to South Carolina in the next three weeks.
The Vols (3-3), picking up their ninth straight win in a series that was dormant for 45 years and snapping a three-game losing streak, averaged 4.8 yards per play, UTC just 3.7.
The numbers were far worse for the Mocs in the first half – 40 yards of offense and two first downs. Tennessee gained 216 total yards and Justin Worley had 174 passing yards on 17-of-22 attempts and two touchdowns at halftime.
When the game ended, the Vols had 217 yards passing and Worley completed 19-of-24 attempts for 198 yards and three touchdowns, more than enough to placate the partisan homecoming crowd of 93,097 at Neyland Stadium on an overcast afternoon.
“I thought Justin was more aggressive in his mindset, in his thinking, in the way he played the game,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “He played confident, which is what we’re going to need as we move forward.”
Two of Worley’s scoring passes went to Johnathon Johnson, covering 21 and 19 yards – the first TD receptions of his career. A third was to Marquez North for 5 yards to open the game’s scoring.
Johnson’s second score was set up when freshman Evan Berry returned the second-half kickoff 68 yards to the Mocs’ 19.
“You start the second half with a splash play, a big momentum play and we did a great job of turning it into seven points,” Jones said.
Johnson got the start Saturday over Alton Howard and Jones was asked why the change at the position.
“Just like Emmanuel Moseley earned the start over Mike Williams,” he said. “You have to earn your spot with a week of preparation. That’s not to say Alton or Mike had a poor week of practice, but it’s about the competitive greatness that we’ve been talking about.”
Said Johnson, who came to Tennessee out of Blinn (Texas) Junior College, “I treat every week the same. I go out there like I’m going to start on Saturday.”
Worley also rushed for a pair of scores on runs of 8 and 1 yard, becoming the first Tennessee quarterback to do that since Casey Clausen in a 45-17 win over Michigan in the 2002 Citrus Bowl.
“I got a lot of crap (from teammates), I’ll tell you that,” Worley said. “I told the guys back there, any way I can help the team, whether it’s rushing or throwing, I’d like to. Getting those two on the ground was me kind of saying, ‘Look, follow me. I’ve got you.’ ”
It wasn’t always easy for the senior signal caller. UTC’s defense recorded a season-high five sacks – two by defensive lineman Josh Freeman – and Worley finished with minus-1 yard on 10 carries. Freeman also recovered a fumble that led to UTC’s only three points in the first half.
“We thought we could come in here and get after them,” Freeman said. “I think we did a pretty good job.”
Improving on a disappointing effort in the 10-9 loss to Florida, a game in which the Vols failed to muster a touchdown, Worley had a hand in five of the Vols’ six touchdowns. He gave way to back-up Nathan Peterman on the final play of the third quarter.
Peterman dashed 14 yards on first down for Tennessee’s final six-pointer with 3:40 left. The score was set up when the Vols recovered a fumbled punt.
“We knew we were playing a good team,” Huesman said. “We felt confident coming in, but we made some mistakes. They get 340 yards, but that doesn’t look like 45 points, so I give our defense a lot of credit.”
With their top two tailbacks – Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane – sidelined with injuries, Derrell Scott, a freshman from Havelock, N.C., rushed for 42 of the team’s 123 yards on nine carries.
Jones said the Vols did what they needed to do to win and had a “businesslike approach” to the game.
“After the loss last week,” Worley said, “(Jones) was visibly upset, but said, ‘we’re moving on. We can’t worry about that. We’ve got to out there. It’s a new week, a new game, another step in the road to get to a bowl game, which is our goal.’ I credit him for getting us ready for this game.”
Defensively, the Vols overwhelmed the Mocs (3-3) for most of the game, holding the visitors to 105 yards rushing and just 96 through the air.
The Vols, who rank No. 1 in the SEC and No. 3 nationally in third-down defense, held the Mocs to 5-of-14 conversions (35.7 percent), well above the 24.7 percentage they took into the game.
The first half was a nightmare for the Mocs’ offense. UTC had seven first-half possessions, five of which ended with punts. Jacob Huesman lost a fumble and the last ended with an Henrique Ribeiro field goal.
UTC’s lone touchdown came on Richard Bagley’s 14-yard run with 6:38 left, with most reserves on the field for both teams.
“We didn’t score the last touchdown or run the ball against (All-SEC linebacker) A.J. Johnson and that group,” Huesman said. “But, I’m proud of our guys because I’m sure they had good players in there.
“They were hard to move, hard to get first downs on with their first group in there, there’s no question about that.”
Tennessee-Chattanooga 0 3 0 7 – 10
Tennessee 7 17 14 7 – 45
TENN – Marquez North 5 pass from Justin Worley (Aaron Medley kick), 9:20
TENN – FG Medley 25, 14:22
TENN – Worley 8 run (Medley kick), 13:48
UTC – FG Henrique Ribeiro 27, 2:17
TENN – Johnathon Johnson 21 pass from Worley (Medley kick), 0:14
TENN – Johnson 19 pass from Worley (Medley kick), 14:08
TENN – Worley 1 run (Medley kick), 4:47
UTC – Richard Bagley 14 run (Ribeiro kick), 6:38
TENN – Nathan Peterman 14 run (Medley kick), 3:40
Attendance – 93,097
First Downs 11 20
Rushes-Yards 37-105 42-123
Passing Yards 96 217
Comp-Att-Yds 10-17-1 22-29-0
Plays-Total Yds 54-210 71-340
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 1-1
Punts.-Avg. 7-45.4 4-50.0
Penalties-Yds. 5-40 1-5
RUSHING — Tennessee-Chattanooga: Jacob Huesman 12-45, Derrick Craine 16-33, Richarde Bagley 4-22, Alejandro Bennifield 1-5, Taharin Tyson 3-2, Team 1-minus 2; Tennessee: Derrell Scott 9-42, Justus Pickett 10-27, Nathan Peterman 5-26, Alton Howard 2-13, Jalen Hurd 2-7, Devrin Young 2-0, Justin Worley 10-minus 1
PASSING — Tennessee-Chattanooga: Huesman 9-16-1 85, Bennifield 1-1-0 0; Tennessee: Justin Worley 19-24-0 198, Peterman 3-5-0 19.
RECEIVING — Tennessee-Chattanooga: Faysal Shafaat 3-45, Alphonso Stewart 2-23, C.J. Board 1-12, Xavier Borishade 1-8, Bagley 1-7, Craine 2-1; Tennessee: Jason Croom 6-76, Johnathon Johnson 3-46, Marquez North 4-26, Ethan Wolf 1-16, Von Pearson 2-14, Jacob Carter 1-14, Devrin Young 1-10, Vic Wharton 3-10, Howard 1-5.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)