Saturday's Orange and White game marked the conclusion of Derek Dooley's first spring as the Tennessee head football coach.
Just short of 36,000 people flowed into Neyland Stadium to see the Volunteers for the first time since Dooley assumed charge of the Tennessee football team.
"First, let me thank the fans," Dooley said. "What a great turnout by our fans. I think it was the third largest spring game that we have ever had here. I am so appreciative of how supportive they have been. They have been through a lot, too, in the last couple of years. They are proving to be the best fans in the country."
Fans were treated to four quarters of 10-minute action. The first quarter was highlighted by the defense with the offensive units struggling to obtain first downs.
Austin Johnson, who was recently moved to middle linebacker, started hot with three of his five tackles coming on the first two defensive series, including one for a three-yard loss.
"He got a surprise of the spring award because he went over there at middle linebacker and it was as if he had been there for two years," said Dooley of Johnson. "He is going to be a solid player for us."
The second quarter saw two solid drives by the white team who was quarterbacked by early enrollee Tyler Bray.
Placekicker Chip Rhome capped a seven-play 38-yard drive with a 41-yard field goal to put the white on top 3-0.
"I was really pleased with his presence out there," Dooley said of Bray's performance. "He is really a high school senior, he wasn't nervous, nothing jittery and performed the way he had performed all spring. He made some good throws and he missed some throws. He did a good job today."
Bray's day climaxed with a drive in the hurry-up offense right before the half. Bray led his team on a drive that covered 66 yards in just 1:27. It was topped off with a three-yard touchdown pass to receiver Denarius Moore, putting the white ahead 10-0.
"Right before the half was good," Dooley said. "Tyler took the offense down on a score. The offense is generally always behind in the spring. I was pleased to see that."
The halftime lead was 10 points for the white team. Tauren Poole quietly racked up over 100 all-purpose yards in the first half.
"He has made big plays in every scrimmage, all three, the spring game and the two scrimmages," Dooley said. "I am real pleased with how he is running the ball."
"Poole has great character, he is a hard worker, hard runner, he can go out and do some things in the passing game and he breaks a lot of tackles. He is going to be a real key for us this year."
After the half the orange team quickly answered with a 90-yard scoring drive featuring senior wide receiver Gerald Jones as the main workhorse, moving the score to 10-7.
Jones acquired 61 of his 84 receiving yards on the final three plays of the drive that was capped off by a six-yard pass from quarterback Matt Simms. Jones was questionable for the game after suffering an ankle injury during last week's practice. Dooley wasn't surprised to see Jones on the field for Saturday's game.
"Gerald wants to have a good year," Dooley said. "He got the toughness award in the spring too. It doesn't surprise me."
The fourth quarter was highlighted by interceptions by Simms. Simms, a junior college transfer, threw two of his three interceptions in the fourth quarter, the most crucial coming in the late moments of the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
"It's such a critical time in the game to execute and make good decisions," Dooley said. "Bad decision and a big play by the white on defense with the interception and that ended up being the difference in the game."
Simms ended the day with 125 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Rhome capped the two interceptions with two more field goals, extending the white lead to 16-7 where the game would end.
Overall, Dooley was pleased with his team's performance throughout spring practice.
"Overall, I am really proud of this football team, how they have handled themselves over the last two months, the work they have put in our program, they have really embraced the new ways of doing things," Dooley said. "Their effort has been great, and I am really pleased with how the spring ended."Statistical Leaders
PassingMatt Simms (12-26, 125 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT) Tyler Bray (18-40, 200 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT)
RushingTauren Poole (12-43 yds, long 18) David Oku (8-34 yds, long 12)
ReceivingGerald Jones (6-84 yds, 1 TD, long 33) Denarius Moore (3-39 yds, long 19) Matt Milton (6-47 yds, long 14) Tauren Poole (3-58 yds, long 33)
Field GoalsChip Rhome (3-3 41, 28, 42)
TacklesHerman Lathers (9, 7 solo) Anthony Anderson (7, 7 solo) Austin Johnson (5, 5 solo) Greg King (5, 4 solo) Eric Gordon (4, 4 solo)
InterceptionsDarren Myles Jr. (1) Anthony Anderson (1) Stephan Raines (1)