KNOXVILLE — Lane Kiffin likes to script what his offensive football team will do in a plethora of scenarios, whether it be the first 15 plays of a game, inside the red zone, on third down or in short yardage.
Saturday, it’s up to the Tennessee players to write the first official chapter of Kiffin’s history as the 21st head coach of the Volunteers.
The youngest current coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Kiffin has shaken up the roster and the depth chart, and rattled the cage of several of his Southeastern Conference cohorts. Those battles lie ahead, however. Instead, the Vols open their 2009 campaign against Western Kentucky (12:20 p.m., WCYB-TV5), a Sun Belt Conference team playing its first game as a full-fledged Bowl Subdivision program.
“It’s for real now. Bowl eligible, conference championship eligible, you really learn how significant that is,” Hilltoppers coach David Elson said. “It means the world to us, I can tell you that.”
Western Kentucky easily could take an us-against-the-world mentality into this one. The Vols are favored by 30 points and, on paper, should win with ease.
Then again, the same could be said prior to last November’s homecoming game against Wyoming, which saw the Vols lose 13-7 and clinch a losing record mere days after Phillip Fulmer announced he would not return as coach.
“We had a lot on our mind that week, but that’s no excuse to come out and let a team beat us that we’re supposed to beat,” UT defensive end Chris Walker said. “That was just mostly on us not being prepared when we should’ve been.”
Kiffin and his coaching staff think there’s no such thing as too much preparation. Eighteen-hour days have been commonplace for the coaches, and earlier this week Kiffin shared a story regarding the defensive staff led by his father, Monte Kiffin.
“They come up with a new defense and a way to play it, well, (Monte) always has to see it happen. He can’t just draw it on the board,” the younger Kiffin said. “So they went out on the grass and (Monday) night at 10:35 at night they were out there on the field.”
Then there’s the scripting. Jim Chaney, the offensive coordinator, said he scripts 120 plays a day.
“We make sure we put them in those situations that are going to be trouble,” Chaney said. “Make sure the QB knows what to do when it happens.
“It’s tough the first game,” he added. “You don’t really know what the heck you’re going to see out there.”
That’s true on both sides. Western Kentucky has new offensive and defensive coordinators, and the Vols won’t know if the Hilltoppers stick with their option game or go with a more traditional offense until kickoff.
Some say the Vols’ season won’t truly begin until next week against UCLA or the SEC opener at Florida. Kiffin thinks otherwise.
“We haven’t played one game together,” Kiffin said. “We haven’t won a game. We haven’t done anything.”
That changes Saturday. As the Vols’ marketing campaign proclaims, “It’s Time.”