Former Tennessee player Eric Berry, left, talks with Tennessee coach Butch Jones during the Orange and White game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday in Knoxville. (AP Photo)
KNOXVILLE — New Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is making a favorable first impression off the field.
Only time will tell if his first Tennessee team can have a similar impact on the field this fall.
The first Orange and White game of Jones’ tenure Saturday drew a crowd of 61,076, the second-highest total ever for a Tennessee spring game. As early as 3 a.m., people started lining up for a pregame autograph session with Jones and the players that eventually drew an estimated 25,000 fans.
But the actual game showed Tennessee still has plenty of work ahead as it attempts to bounce back from three straight losing seasons.
The game matched the offense against the defense, with the defense representing the Orange team and the offense making up the White team. The Orange won 95-71 under a complicated scoring system that awarded points for big achievements by each unit.
“I’m very encouraged by what I see, but obviously there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the next couple of months,” Jones said. “I’m encouraged with our leadership. I can feel this football team getting closer and closer together. But we have to get a lot better over the summer months.”
Justin Worley and Cody Blanc connected on a 58-yard completion for the offense’s lone touchdown. The only other touchdown came on a 62-yard interception return by walk-on defensive back Max Arnold.
Tennessee’s offense is struggling to replace quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, who bypassed their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft. The biggest performer on offense Saturday was Alden Hill, who rushed for 101 yards on 18 carries.
“We have to find playmakers,” Jones said.
Worley hit 8 of 18 passes for 123 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Nathan Peterman was 9-of-23 for 98 yards, including a 48-yard completion to Vincent Dallas. Jones said after the game their quarterback competition will continue into the summer, with freshmen Josh Dobbs and Riley Ferguson also getting a chance to make their cases after they arrive on campus.
“It was a little sloppy — too many penalties, too many (missed assignments) that we can easily fix,” Worley said of the offense’s performance. “Just little small things. This summer’s going to be huge for us as a whole offense to work on those small things and progress in our tempo and things like that.”
Freshman Corey Vereen, who enrolled at Tennessee in January shortly after graduating from high school, recorded four sacks in the first half. Brian Randolph had a 37-yard interception return.
Michael Palardy made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 52-yarder that bounced off the crossbar on the final play of the first half.
Jones’ first spring game brought more than 500 former Tennessee players back to campus, including 2009 Jim Thorpe Award winner Eric Berry and Al Wilson, a linebacker and team captain on the 1998 national championship team. Houston Texans running back Arian Foster worked as a disc jockey on the stage that was set up in one corner of Neyland Stadium.
“Coach Jones has just established an environment where football is fun for us,” defensive lineman Jacques Smith said. “It’s no longer like a job or just something that you must do, where you come to work just to get put down. He’s boosted our confidence. He’s made it fun again.”
This marked just the second time since 1987 that an Orange and White game drew more than 36,000 fans. The record crowd remains 73,801 in 1986.