KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Rajion Neal rushed for 141 yards and Justin Worley threw three touchdown passes Saturday as Tennessee began Butch Jones’ coaching tenure with a 45-0 rout of Austin Peay.
Neal and Worley sat out the entire third and fourth quarters after the Volunteers scored touchdowns on each of their six first-half possessions. Worley went 11 of 13 for 104 yards and threw touchdown passes to Devrin Young, Alton “Pig” Howard and Brendan Downs. Neal opened the scoring with a career-long 47-yard touchdown.
Jones was hired away from Cincinnati in December to turn around a storied program that has produced three straight losing seasons for the first time in over a century. Jones replaced Derek Dooley, who was fired after going 15-21 in three years.
He already is making an impact in the stands. Jones’ debut had an announced attendance of 97,169. Tennessee drew 87,821 fans for its home opener against Georgia State last year and had an average attendance of 89,965, its lowest since 1979.
Tennessee’s one-sided victory gave those fans plenty of reason for optimism, though it did come against a Football Championship Subdivision program that has lost 17 consecutive road games. Austin Peay hasn’t won away from home since beating Tennessee State 26-23 on Sept. 18, 2010.
Jones’ team will face much tougher tests soon enough. Five of Tennessee’s first eight games are against teams ranked 10th or higher in the Top 25: No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Oregon, No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 10 Florida.
Neal started the scoring with his 47-yard burst on Tennessee’s opening series. The senior running back shook loose of defensive end Trey Salisbury in the backfield, raced toward the left sideline and stayed upright when free safety Johnathan Shuler pushed him in the back inside the 10-yard line.
On Austin Peay’s ensuing possession, senior nose tackle Daniel Hood deflected and caught an Andrew Spivey pass for his first career interception, giving Tennessee the ball at Austin Peay’s 25-yard line. The turnover set up a 14-yard touchdown run up the middle on Marlin Lane’s first carry of the season. Lane would add a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Austin Peay never recovered. Tennessee outgained Austin Peay 188-15 in the first quarter and already led 21-0 by the time the Governors got a first down. Tennessee didn’t punt until midway through the third quarter and didn’t commit a penalty all night.
Devrin Young capped Tennessee’s third drive of the game by scoring his first career touchdown on a 9-yard pass from Worley, who was falling backward as he released the ball. Worley threw touchdown passes of 11 yards to Alton “Pig” Howard and 3 yards to tight end Brendan Downs in the second quarter.
Tennessee earned its 800th victory in program history and became the eighth school in the nation to reach that plateau. The others are Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Alabama.