Tennessee head coach Butch Jones got his team to accomplish a feat in his debut against Austin Peay on Saturday that hasn't been reached since Phillip Fulmer was trotting the Neyland Stadium sidelines.
For the first time since their SEC Championship loss to LSU in 2007, the Vols played a penalty-free game in their 45-0 win.
"I didn't really realize it until the end of the game," starting linebacker Dontavis Sapp said, "when I looked up at the scoreboard and saw 0-for-0."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman, who went 4-for-8 with 28 yards in second half mop-up duty, attributed the change to the team's focus on its roots, quoting one of General Robert Neyland's game maxims.
"Maxim one: the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win," he said. "As an offense to come out and do that is great to reach our goal. I'm really happy that we did that, and hopefully we can do it again next week."
Jones himself couldn't recall a penalty-less game from his coaching career before Saturday.
Ups and downs dictate nearly any true freshman's debut, and such was the case in regards to cornerback Malik Foreman.
The 5-foot-10, 177-pound newcomer was noticeably picked on by Austin Peay quarterbacks, and the tactic produced the Governors' two biggest offensive plays of the night — a pair of 30-plus-yard receptions by Darryl Clack.
However, Foreman bounced back in a big way with an interception early in the fourth quarter that stifled Peay's 14-play drive. He became the first Vol to notch a pick in his debut since 1996 when Dwayne Goodrich did it.
"We have a snap and clear mentality — Play one snap, then clear your mind so that the last play doesn't affect the next one," Sapp said.
"I was glad he didn't get weighed down," Sapp added. "They made a big play on him earlier in the game, but he reacted well and came up with the interception."
Senior safety Byron Moore echoed that short-memory mantra and saw poise from Foreman and the other young defensive backs.
"It helps their confidence, seeing him out there being able to make that play," Moore said. "I was happy for him and he was excited, so it definitely builds up his confidence to go into next week."
Hood's happy hands
Players like Foreman get plenty of chances to get in front of passes, but it's a rare occurrence for lineman to say the least. You couldn't tell that by the way Daniel Hood pulled in his first career pick.
The senior nose tackle reached up to bat a screen pass from Austin Peay quarterback Andrew Spivey during the Vols' second defensive possession of the season and got enough of it to send it flying into the air. From that point on, there was only one thing on Hood's mind.
"Score, gotta score," Hood said.
There was nothing but 25 yards of green grass between Hood and the checkerboard end zone, but he was quickly caught up to after a five-yard return. It didn't matter in the end though, as Marlin Lane busted a 14-yard touchdown run just three plays later.
Still, Hood wasn't shy in lightheartedly calling out fellow lineman Corey Miller after the pick.
"If Corey would've gotten a little block on the quarterback, we might've had a touchdown," Hood said.
As if the 97,169 fans in Neyland Stadium couldn't tell easily enough, intercepting passes isn't exactly a feat that Hood is used to.
"It was the first interception I've had since middle school," he said.
For a defense that was the subject of countless jokes and finger-pointing a season ago, there's not much better of a confidence boost than a season-opening shutout.
"I think that's one of the few (shutouts) we've had since I've been here," Hood said. "It was nice to come back and bounce back from what we did last year, and actually play a good defensive game and shut them out."
The satisfaction wasn't as evident from some of UT's other players. Sapp, who started his first career game on Saturday, still saw some room for improvement.
"We got a shutout, but there's always things you can work on and things you can fix," Sapp said. "We didn't give up zero yards, so there's always something you can get better at."
Just minutes after Saturday's game became final, Jones was already talking about UT's next opponent — Western Kentucky.
"We have an extremely, extremely, extremely talented football team coming in here next Saturday," he said in his opening statement. "So we have to continue to get better and roll our sleeves up and come to work tomorrow."
The coach's emphasis on looking ahead quickly resonated with his players. Hood even mistakenly referred to Austin Peay as "Western Kentucky" in his postgame comments.
"He's already talking to us about Western Kentucky," Hood said. "We've known for a while they were going to be a really good team. The last time we played that coach (Bobby Petrino) he beat us pretty bad down at Arkansas."
Western Kentucky was also in action Saturday night, beating Kentucky 35-26 in Nashville. Petrino's Hilltoppers will look to make it two straight wins over SEC foes when they face Jones and the Vols on Sept. 7.
"You're going to get to know me — I'm already thinking about Western Kentucky," Jones said. "We'll enjoy this one tonight, but the more you win, the more that's at stake.
"We're going to be challenged by a really good football team coming in."