The Big Orange parlayed seven Hilltopper turnovers into five touchdowns and a field goal – meaning 38 of their points in the 52-20 romp followed WKU mistakes. The seven turnovers were the most since the Memphis game of 1984. The five interceptions were the most since the Kentucky game of 1999. Justin Coleman and freshman Cameron Sutton recorded pick-sixes, the first time two Vols have returned interceptions for touchdowns in the same game since Prentiss Waggner and Eric Gordon turned the trick against Ole Miss in 2010.
After the Coleman and Sutton pick-sixes produced a 14-3 lead, a strip and recovery by Vol linebacker Dontavis Sapp at the WKU 28-yard line set up a 23-yard field goal that bumped the lead to 17-3. A 23-yard fumble return by safety Max Arnold set up a 12-yard drive that pushed the lead to 24-3. An interception by linebacker Brent Brewer at the Hilltoppers' 22-yard line set up another short drive that widened the gap to 31-3.
The fact Tennessee had 31 points and only 84 yards of total offense at halftime says two things: One, the attack unit routinely was facing short-field situations. Two, the defense routinely was around the ball (in stark contrast to 2012).
Was this a gift win? Sure. Western Kentucky lost the game more than Tennessee won it. But when an opponent is as generous as the Hilltoppers were on Saturday, the best thing an opponent can do is accept the gift graciously. The Vols certainly did that.
Where the game was won
Tennessee parlayed five first-quarter turnovers into 31 points and a 31-3 lead. Although Western Kentucky scored 14 points to pull within 31-17 at halftime, the Vols were never seriously threatened again.
The big picture
Game 1 foe Austin Peay was a 1 on a 1-to-10 scale. Game 2 foe Western Kentucky was a 5 that played like a 2. Game 3 foe Oregon is a 10. Clearly, Tennessee is about to step way up in class, ready or not.
Players of the game
Offense: Marlin Lane
The Vols' No. 2 running back has been a man possessed since returning from a disciplinary suspension that exiled him from the team in March, April, May, June and part of July. He ran the hardest he has run as a Vol against Western Kentucky, gaining 97 net yards on 16 carries. He lost just one yard and scored on an eight-yard burst that bumped the lead to 24-3 early in the second quarter.
Lane combines with first-teamer Rajion Neal to give Tennessee a solid 1-2 punch.
"We enjoy playing with each other," Neal said. "In the end we know what we want (productivity and victory), so it's fun."
Quarterback Justin Worley says having Lane and Neal to carry the ground attack makes his job easier.
"It takes a lot of pressure off me, knowing that on third and four we can hand the ball off and get a first down," Worley said. "And it opens up our play-action game. The past couple of games we've had several touchdown passes off play-action that's being set up by our running game."
Defense: Justin Coleman
The junior cornerback made the first big play of the game when he downed a Michael Palardy punt at the WKU 2-yard line. Four snaps later he intercepted a pass that bounced off the hands of Western's Kylen Towner, then raced 23 yards down the west sidelines for a touchdown that produced a 7-0 lead and ignited the crowd.
"I feel like those plays made a huge change, a huge momentum swing," Coleman told InsideTennessee. "The pick was my first of the season – the first of my career – and it helped the team get a huge confidence boost."
Coleman was almost as pleased about downing the punt as he was about returning the pick-six.
"We take a huge pride in special teams," he said. "Coach (Butch Jones) is always on us about special teams because he knows it's going to be a huge factor in the games."
Coleman's pick proved to be a catalyst. Tennessee forced four more turnovers on WKU's next five plays, parlaying the resulting possessions into 24 more points and a 31-3 lead. The Hilltoppers never recovered.
Acknowledging that his touchdown return "kind of took the wind out of ‘em," Coleman said the Hilltoppers "are a great team and they put up a fight but we just used our first maxim (The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win) against ‘em."
Next up …
Oregon (Sept. 14 at 3:30 Eastern in Eugene): The second-ranked Ducks moved to 2-0 Saturday evening by annihilating Virginia 59-10.