Since his hiring in December, Butch Jones has given Volunteer fans every reason to be enamored with their new head football coach.
Whether it be the recruitment of highly-touted high school players or screaming into a microphone as the Vols practiced in front of tens of thousands of fans, Jones has given UT faithful plenty of reason for optimism.
With the anticipation of the 2013 UT season at it's climax, the Butch Jones era finally began on Saturday as the Vols defeated the Austin Peay Governors 45-0.
"I'm very proud of these guys," Jones said. "I thought we came out with a collective energy about ourselves. We generated some turnovers early. I thought that really switched the momentum. Really once we gained the momentum, we never relinquished the momentum. I thought that was big as well."
The defense got the Vols off to a good start after senior defensive lineman Daniel Hood intercepted a pass he tipped at the line and gave the offense great field position to build on a 7-0 lead.
After the interception, the defensive unit did not look back, only allowing Austin Peay to drive into Tennessee territory twice. The shutout was the first for the Vols since Nov. 5, 2011 against Middle Tennessee State, and for a unit that struggled immensely last season (allowed 471 yards per game last year), the effort showed signs that improvement is on its way.
"It's one of the few we've had since I've been here," said Hood of the shutout. "So it's nice to bounce back from what we had done last year and actually play a good defensive game where we held someone and shut them out and not have another Akron situation."
The Vols running game carried the offense throughout the game, totaling 315 yards on the ground, 141 of which came from senior running back Rajion Neal.
"It was honestly just one of those nights where it just starts and begins up front," Neal said. "You got to give the praise to the O-Line for giving me the reads and the starts and just getting me started every time.
The highlight of Neal's night however, came when he kicked off the scoring of the 2013 season with a 47 yard run down the left sideline early in the first quarter.
"It was set up kind of perfect," Neal said. "The offensive line stretched it, I took my read, then my receivers just helped me out by pinning one and I just walked it down the sideline."
Though the offense was dominated by the run game, junior quarterback Justin Worley didn't hurt the cause as he hurled three touchdowns himself.
"I thought Justin managed the game outstanding," Jones said. "He hit a couple of hot throws. When he was hot I thought he had great command. I thought he had great poise. I told him you can't be emotional. You have to be the coach. It is like a surgeon, you have poised and disciplined and I thought he was."
Though his 11-for-13 night with three scores and 104 yards looks good on paper, Worley said he he was "going to grade himself harshly," especially on a throw that cost him his fourth touchdown toss of the game.
"I missed Marquez (North), I threw it behind him a bit and he made a good catch, but he could've walked in the endzone," Worley said. "I'll be tough on myself, you have to be to progress as a quarterback so I'll evaluate everything."
The game was UT's 800th in program history and the first with its new leader who Neal said brings energy on the sideline that gives the Vols an extra surge.
"I am not going to lie, it is exciting," Neal said of Jones. "I like to see how energized he gets on the sidelines. It gives you a giant boost. You don't see too many coaches come in and be jacked up as much as he is."