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KNOXVILLE — Tennessee put together a halfway decent performance in half-empty Neyland Stadium to defeat Middle Tennessee State 24-0 Saturday night.
True freshman quarterback Justin Worley, making his second start, completed 11 of his first 13 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown while helping the Volunteers (4-5) build a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Tennessee redshirt freshman kicker Derrick Brodus was tracked down around 6:10 p.m. Saturday because Michael Palardy was injured Thursday and backup Chip Rhome pulled a muscle in pregame. Brodus, who played in the spring game and played in high school at Alcoa, made a 21-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to conclude the game’s scoring.
“This is no lie: I mean we called the frat house and got a policeman to go get him,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “And he suits up and nails three PATs and a field goal, so he gets the game ball.”
Dooley joked that the Vols were fortunate Brodus hadn’t been having the type of fun fraternity brothers often do.
“It’s a good thing, you know, he wasn’t having too much fun on a Saturday afternoon,” Dooley said with a smile. “But I told the coaches ‘Hey, an intoxicated Brodus is better than nobody.”
Brodus’ kick capped a 38-yard drive which began with 40 seconds left in the half after Eric Gordon returned a Jeff Murphy interception 17 yards to the MTSU 41.
Murphy had replaced Logan Kilgore after Kilgore began 4-of-10 passing with an interception. Linebacker Austin Johnson returned the interception 22 yards to the MTSU 7 to set up the game’s first score, a 1-yard Tauren Poole run on 3rd-and-goal with nine minutes left in the first quarter.
It was one of two TD runs for Poole during an otherwise unimpressive performance. Poole rushed 11 times for 20 yards.
Another Alcoa product, redshirt freshman walk-on Jaron Toney, led the Vols with 52 yards on 19 carries. The Vols finished with 45 rushes for 120 yards against a defense that allowed 330 rushing yards last week against Louisiana-Lafayette.
“We’re just not very good running the ball,” Dooley said.
Worley looked good throwing the ball, especially early. He made several accurate throws on out patterns and hit Da’Rick Rogers in stride near the goal line with a play-action pass for a 47-yard TD to help give the Vols a 14-0 lead with 2:24 left in the first quarter.
Worley was 23-of-32 passing for 291 yards and no interceptions. Several of the incompletions were deep throws, including one when he overthrew Rogers some 60 yards down the field.
“Justin played a really good game,” Dooley said. “It is the game we were hoping he would play last week (against South Carolina). He was just one week late.
“But he performed the way we’ve seen in practice. He was very calm and composed. … He didn’t let last week’s performance affect him. He grew from it and played better.”
Rogers finished with nine catches for 137 yards. Devrin Young returned a kickoff 39 yards to the 50-yard line.
Murphy was 14 of 21 for 108 yards for the Blue Raiders, who were held to 230 yards of total offense.
Along with the interception, Johnson had a team-high seven tackles for UT. Gordon had two tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
The announced attendance of 88,000-plus all but got a wink from Dooley, who said he was pleased with the number of people who did show up on a night when No. 1 LSU was playing at No. 2 Alabama.
“It’s our job to bring the people,” Dooley said.
Tennessee visits No. 8 Arkansas on Saturday.