“I wouldn’t necessarily call it easy. I would call it routine,” wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers said.
Tyler Bray threw for a career-high 405 yards, passed for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth score as Tennessee cruised to a 45-23 win over Cincinnati on Saturday.
Bray completed 34 of 41 passes and bettered his previous career high of 354 yards as the Volunteers got their first win over a nonconference BCS opponent in six tries and first 2-0 start since 2006.
Rogers caught two of the touchdown passes and had 100 yards receiving, and Justin Hunter added 156 yards receiving and a score. The Vols defense twice stopped Cincinnati on fourth-and-1 and came up with a goal-line stand in the third quarter.
“We really just play like you play in practice — hard — and it turns up in the game,” Rogers said.
Isaiah Pead led the Bearcats (1-1) with 155 yards rushing and a touchdown, DJ Woods had 111 yards receiving and Zach Collaros was 21 for 34 for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
Both teams scored touchdowns on their first two drives. Bray found Rogers by himself on one side of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown pass to give the Vols a 21-14 lead with 13:20 left before halftime that they wouldn’t relinquish.
The pass, Bray’s second TD throw of the game, marked the eighth consecutive game the sophomore has thrown multiple scoring strikes, eclipsing Peyton Manning’s team record of seven games set in 1997.
The Vols held on to the momentum on the following drive, tackling Collaros for a loss of 6 yards after he dropped the ball in the backfield, and they also stuffed Pead for a loss of a yard on fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 49.
“When you play a talented team like UT, well, you can’t beat yourself,” Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. “You can’t give them opportunities like we did.”
After the teams traded punts and the Vols’ Michael Palardy missed a 43-yard field goal attempt, Tennessee stopped the Bearcats again on fourth-and-1 by dropping Collaros for no gain. On the next drive, Bray found Rogers in the end zone again, this time in double coverage, and Rogers hung on to the ball while losing his helmet for a 15-yard touchdown catch with 1:15 in the second quarter.
Cincinnati marched down the field during the final minute of the half, but Hunter tipped a 47-yard field goal attempt by Tony Milano, and the Vols went into halftime with a 28-14 lead.
“It felt like a track meet to me, but our defense settled in,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said.
The Bearcats’ frustrations continued after the break. Tennessee opened with a 10-play, 70-yard drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Bray.
On the following drive, the Bearcats reached the Tennessee 1 on a 24-yard pass from Collaros to Kenbrell Thompkins, who had previously committed to Tennessee under former coach Lane Kiffin. The Vols kept them from getting any closer, and Cincinnati settled for a 23-yard field goal by Tony Milano to cut the margin to 35-17.
The Bearcats, who scored a Football Bowl Subdivision-leading 72 points in the opening week of the season, couldn’t close the gap any more.
“They came out today with a different look than we were expecting. We moved the ball well, but we just didn’t finish drives,” Collaros said.
Pead, who had 104 yards rushing in the first quarter alone, ran 65 yards for a touchdown the first time he touched the ball, the third play of the game. Pead had a 40-yard touchdown run on the first play of the Bearcats’ season opening 72-10 win over Austin Peay.
Dooley reached into his bag of tricks early in the game to keep pace with the Bearcats. Tennessee had answered Pead’s touchdown run with a seven-play drive capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Marlin Lane. Palardy attempted — and recovered — an onside kick, and the Vols scored five plays later on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Bray to Hunter.
But Dooley was still disappointed with the Vols’ two turnovers on fumbles, the second which led to Cincinnati’s final touchdown, a 4-yard pass from Collaros to Anthony McClung with 8:46 left in the game.