MEMPHIS — Highly touted freshman Da’Rick Rogers from Calhoun (Ga.) High School finally reached the end zone as a University of Tennessee football player Saturday night.
Rogers caught a 22-yard pass from fellow true freshman Tyler Bray with 5:51 left in the first half. An extra point from yet another classmate, Michael Palardy, gave UT a 30-7 lead over the Tigers.
Catching passes was far from Rogers’ only chance to make plays Saturday night. He also gained 50 yards on two kickoff returns, including a 29-yarder on the game’s first play.
Rogers, who led the Volunteers with 49 rushing yards in last week’s loss at South Carolina, also took an end-around 1 yard in Saturday’s first half.
Vols coach Derek Dooley joked after the South Carolina loss that he might play Rogers at tailback. He didn’t do that, but he did make a more concerted effort to get Rogers involved in the offense.
Left-handed true freshman James Stone made his first career start at center for the Vols. He was recruited to UT as a guard, but coaches moved him into the middle in efforts to get their best five linemen on the field. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said earlier in the week that he didn’t think he or anyone else on the staff had ever coached a left-handed center, but Stone didn’t appear to make any huge mistakes while getting the ball to the quarterback.
True freshman defensive end Corey Miller made his first career start, getting the nod over senior Gerald Williams. Williams was in on several plays later in the first quarter.
Vols senior fullback Kevin Cooper returned after missing the South Carolina game with an unspecified team academic rule violation. But true freshman Channing Fugate started for a second consecutive week after impressing coaches against the Gamecocks.
Vols sack attack
Junior tackle Malik Jackson, a former end who has emerged as UT’s most consistent defensive lineman, had two of the Vols’ four first-half sacks.
Senior end Chris Walker, a Memphis native, had his first sack of the season early in Saturday’s win.
True freshman end Jacques Smith, a former Ooltewah star, forced a fumble that UT recovered on his sack late in the second quarter. Dooley said earlier in the week that Smith would play Saturday night despite a simple assault arrest last weekend. Dooley said Smith, who is a “good kid,” got into an argument with a fellow UT student over a female at a Cumberland Avenue night club.
Poole party again
Bray’s huge first half overshadowed a solid effort from junior tailback Tauren Poole.
Poole had 81 yards on just 13 carries at the break, and he added 50 yards on receptions, giving him 131 all-purpose yards on 15 touches.
As expected, Vols sophomore safety Janzen Jackson dropped back to return the Tigers’ first punt. Redshirt freshman cornerback Eric Gordon fell out of favor with coaches after muffing a punt in last week’s loss at South Carolina. He also muffed a punt (and fumbled a kickoff return) in the Vols’ loss at Georgia.
Jackson didn’t return the first two punts — the first went out of bounds, and he fair-caught the second — but he did return an interception 35 yards to the Memphis 40 midway through the second quarter.
This and that
UT true freshman guard Zach Fulton, a starter, injured his ankle in the first half and didn’t return. ... Memphis sophomore receiver Marcus Rucker had a good start, collecting 23 yards on three first-quarter catches, including a 4-yard score that gave Memphis an early lead. ... The Tigers rotated young quarterbacks Ryan Williams and Cannon Smith in the first half. Each was intercepted once, and Smith also lost a fumble when Smith sacked him.
UT’s game captains were senior tight end Luke Stocker, senior receiver Denarius Moore and junior cornerback Anthony Anderson. Moore and Stocker combined for 125 yards on eight catches in the first half.