Fast starters

If college football games lasted 15 minutes instead of 60, Tennessee would be contending for the national championship.

The Vols have led nine of their first 11 opponents at the end of the first quarter with one tie. The deadlock came at LSU, when the Big Orange surrendered an 83-yard touchdown on the game's opening scrimmage play before clawing back to finish the period deadlocked at 7. The only time Tennessee trailed after one period was Game 6 at Georgia, when the Dawgs raced to a 17-0 lead.

All told, Tennessee has outscored its first 11 foes 94-44 in the opening quarter. That stat is even more dramatic when you consider that the Big Orange has been outscored 206-238 in the final three quarters.

The obvious question: Why are the Vols such fast starters?

"I think what we're doing is, we're not holding back. It's all or nothing," senior receiver Gerald Jones said. "We're taking our shots. Tyler (Bray) allows us players to make plays, and I think that's the big thing. We make big, explosive plays in the first quarter."

He has a point. Consider:

David Oku had a 44-yard touchdown in the first quarter of Game 1 vs. UT Martin. Tauren Poole broke a 31-yard non-scoring run on the first play of Game 2 vs. Oregon, and had 111 yards by the end of the first quarter.

Matt Simms and Zach Rogers hooked up for a 72-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of Game 4 vs. UAB. Poole rambled 59 yards for a score in the first quarter of Game 7 vs. Alabama.

Simms completed a 33-yard non-scoring pass to Denarius Moore in the first quarter of Game 8 at South Carolina. Bray completed passes of 41 yards to Poole, 26 yards to Jones and 42 yards (for a TD) to Justin Hunter in the first quarter of Game 9 at Memphis. Poole contributed a 27-yard burst in the same quarter.

Bray hit Hunter for an 80-yard touchdown on the opening play of Game 10 vs. Ole Miss, then hit Moore for a 30-yard gain later in the period. The defense got into the act, too, as Eric Gordon scored on a 46-yard interception return before the quarter ended.

Even Game 11 vs. Vanderbilt - hardly the Vols' finest hour - saw them start fast. Poole rambled 21 yards and Bray found Oku for a gain of 34 before the first period had come to a close.

Derek Dooley isn't sure why his offense tends to click in Quarter No. 1 but he has a theory.

"Our young guys are confident with those early calls because we work on them a lot," the Vols' head coach said. "We go into the game knowing what those first 10 to 15 calls are going to be. As the game goes and you have to make adjustments, I think that's where the experience started breaking down for us a little bit."

Here's another theory: The youthful Vols are so excited to take the field each Saturday that their exuberance carries them through the initial period.

"I think there's definitely been excitement and motivation in the first quarter," senior linebacker Nick Reveiz said. "We're a young team, and I think that contributes to how fast we come out."

Senior defensive end Gerald Williams agrees that enthusiasm is a factor in the quick starts, especially for the stop unit.

"We come out pumped up," he said. "We just want to come out and make a statement: Don't give the offense any edge or any momentum. We want to stop everything they throw at us."

Sophomore linebacker Herman Lathers pinpoints two more reasons the Vols play well in the opening quarter - preparedness and strength coach Bennie Wylie.

"We're always prepared," Lathers said. "We all watch a lot of extra film ... with the coaches sometimes and sometimes on our own. Coach (Justin) Wilcox prepares us well. He gives us notes and tips about what the offense will try to do to us."

Whereas Wilcox's scouting report contributes to Tennessee's mental preparedness, Wylie's booming voice and forceful personality contribute to the Vols' emotional preparedness.

"Coach Bennie Wylie is a big hype man for us," Lathers said. "He gets us fired up for the first quarter. In the locker room before we go out, he tells how long before we take the field, then he calls out (mimicking Wylie's deep voice) 'That ain't long!' He also fires us up during pre-game warm-ups. He just gets us ready."

Clearly, something is getting the Vols ready. If they could play four quarters the way they play the first one, they might be 10-1 instead of 5-6.

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