The Vols bolted to a 42-0 halftime lead, then Butch Jones mercifully pulled his starters. The final score – Vols 45, Austin Peay 0 – easily could've been 76-0.
The Governors may be the worst team I've seen visit Neyland Stadium in my 30 years covering the Vols. Louisiana Monroe, a 70-3 loser in 2000, might have been a little worse. The Western Kentucky squad that fell 63-7 in Lane Kiffin's 2009 Vol opener belongs in the conversation.
When playing an inferior foe, the key is to keep your foot on the accelerator and not let up. The Vols' first-teamers did that, producing touchdowns on each of their six first-half possessions. The second-teamers then showed why they're second-teamers, stopping themselves regularly in contributing just one second-half field goal to the final score.
All a team can do is beat the team put in front of it, however, and the Vols certainly succeeded on that count.
Where the game was won
Honestly, when Tennessee's starters ran through the "T" in pregame ceremonies without suffering ankle injuries, Austin Peay's fate was sealed.
The big picture
Hammering a foe as hapless as Austin Peay means absolutely nothing. When Butch Jones was head coach at Cincinnati his 2011 Bearcats hammered the Governors 70-10 in the opener, then lost 45-23 to Tennessee a week later.
Players of the game
OFFENSE: Justin Worley and Rajion Neal (tie).
Worley correctly characterized his performance as "consistent." He completed 11 of 13 passes for 104 yards and three touchdowns. Both incompletions were on balls thrown slightly behind freshman Marquez North. Not known for his mobility, Worley also rushed four times for 21 yards, including a nifty 11-yarder, on zone-read keepers.
"I thought we (he and backup Nathan Peterman) executed the zone-read pretty well," Worley said. "I know it's pretty new to the Tennessee offensive style but we'll progress. We're quarterbacks, so running the ball is something we're going to have to work on but it'll develop throughout the season."
Worley knew it was going to be his night when he caught Austin Peay in a blitz and called a hot read (quick throw). With a pass rusher in his face, Worley lobbed to Devrin Young for a nine-yard touchdown that bumped Tennessee's lead to 21-0.
Because he was backpedaling as he threw, Worley appeared to be putting the ball up for grabs. He says that was not the case, however.
"Their safety came down on our flat route and Devrin was just right behind him," Worley said. "It was scripted pretty well for a pressure situation."
Neal has been dogged for three years because his 4.36 speed has produced so few big plays. He beat the rap on his third carry of 2013, however, bursting through a crease, veering to his left and turning on the jets for a career-long 47-yard run that produced the Vols' first TD.
"Oh, man, it was nice," he told InsideTennessee. "I can't lie. It was set up kind of perfect. The O-line stretched it, I took my read, then my receivers helped me out by pinning one (safety) and I just walked it down the sideline."
DEFENSE: Daniel Hood
For a guy whose stat line showed just one tackle and one assist Hood had a monumental impact on Saturday's opener. On Austin Peay's fifth offensive play he batted an Andrew Spivey pass, then plucked the ball out of the air and rambled five yards on the interception return to the Governors' 25-yard line. Tennessee scored in three plays to go up 14-0.
"On a screen that's my play to make when they do throw it," Hood said of his pick. "The quarterback threw the ball low, so I was able to bat it and catch it."
Grinning smugly, he added: "If Corey (Miller) would've got a little block on the quarterback we might've had a touchdown."
Hood subsequently noted that "It was the first interception I've had since middle school."
In addition to his interception, Hood registered a crushing hit on a three-yard tackle for loss and a pass deflection.
Next up …
Western Kentucky (Sept. 7): The Hilltoppers opened the Bobby Petrino coaching era with an impressive 35-26 trouncing of Kentucky in Nashville.