KNOXVILLE — Snipes at coaches. Big-name recruits. Inappropriate Twittering. The Orange Swarm. Shirtless assistant coaches. Monte Kiffin.
Yes, the scene surrounding the Tennessee football team has resembled a circus at times over the past five months. And new head coach Lane Kiffin certainly is the ringmaster.
For at least one day, though, Kiffin and the Volunteers put on a show.
Tennessee rolled up 657 yards of offense in a 63-7 clobbering of Western Kentucky on Saturday in the 2009 season opener.
And it was fun to watch.
“It was fun,” said quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who threw five touchdown passes. “It’s the game we love, playing with guys you love to play with.”
It was the Vols’ first 60-point effort since a 63-20 throttling of Arkansas on Nov. 11, 2000.
Most of the numbers Tennessee put up were the stuff of a video game played on the easy difficulty level.
The Vols ran for 380 yards, with both Montario Hardesty (160 yards) and Bryce Brown (104) individually topping the century mark. Crompton threw for 233 yards on a 21-for-28 passing effort, with nearly 20 percent of his completions going for touchdowns.
The defense got into the act as well. Western Kentucky had 9 yards of offense at the half and did not notch a non-penalty first down until the third quarter.
That stingy Monte Kiffin defense came in handy early. The Vols turned over the ball twice in the first period, when a pass by Crompton got tipped for an interception and Hardesty lost a fumble.
“We hadn’t punted and we hadn’t had a third down and we didn’t have any points,” Lane Kiffin said of the first quarter. “So, unfortunately we’re not taking care of the ball.”
The Vols did have one third down — on the last play of the period. Bryce Brown made a 3-yard gain to move the sticks, and three players later, he punched it in from 2 yards out for the first TD of the Kiffin era.
“I think for everything I had butterflies. But going into the game, this is the most calm I’ve ever been,” Brown said. “I had 100 percent confidence in the coaching staff and the players and putting us in position to be successful.”
After that, the floodgates opened. On Western Kentucky’s next play, LaMarcus Thompson levied a punishing hit to Hilltoppers tailback Bobby Rainey that dislodged the ball. Thompson recovered the fumble and, on the very next play, Crompton hit Luke Stocker for a 17-yard TD.
Scoring strikes to Quintin Hancock (9 yards) and Brandon Warren (4 yards) followed, giving the Vols a 28-0 halftime lead. It was comfortable, but the new guy in charge in Knoxville was not satisfied.
“We should be up by five or six touchdowns right now,” Kiffin said in a halftime television interview.
Hardesty helped make it a total rout. He scored on a career-long 43-yard run with 7:28 showing in the third period, busting through a tackle and literally dragging the Western Kentucky defender into the end zone with him.
The Hilltoppers (0-1) answered with their lone scoring drive, which ended with a nifty 19-yard TD run by Rainey.
Then the Vols got going again, with Stocker and Marsalis Teague snaring TD passes from Crompton and David Oku tacking on a pair of late touchdowns on short runs.
Teague led the receivers with six grabs for 86 yards. Hancock had five catches for 65 yards.
“We play until the clock hits zeroes,” freshman receiver Nu’Keese Richardson said. “There’s no letting up.”
But Kiffin didn’t like how his second-string defense went off the gas following Hardesty’s big run.
“We’ve got to build our backups up and play better,” he said. “As soon as we took out Nick (Reveiz), they went straight down the field.”
In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to gain too much insight on the Vols given their outmatched opponent. If nothing else, it showed the crowd-pleasing capabilities of the new offense and defense.
Reveiz said the linebackers tried to sneak a few peeks at their team’s offense, but it was hard with position coach Lance Thompson giving instruction.
“Couple times we’d hear the crowd yell and Coach Thompson would be talking to us and we’d look up at the screen and yell ‘Hey!’” Reveiz said. “They’re never ever not telling you something that can help you. We wanted to watch the offense, but we had to listen up.”
While tougher tests lie ahead, the first game of Lane Kiffin’s tenure at Tennessee is sure to make the college football world pay attention.