The Tennessee Volunteers escaped with a 13-9 victory against the Northern Illinois Huskies at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
I'm proud of him. He managed the game well and was extremely poised in the pocket.head coach Phillip Fulmer
In his first start as a Volunteer, redshirt sophomore Nick Stephens went 10-of-17 for 156 yards and one touchdown. Stephens' play earned him praise from head coach Phillip Fulmer.
"He managed the game well and was extremely poised in the pocket," Fulmer said.
The highlight of Stephens' day came early in the second half when he hit Denarius Moore for a 52-yard touchdown pass.
"It was a pre-snap read," Stephens said. "I thought we had a shot at it. Once I saw him, I just laid it out there for him."
While Stephens played solid, the offense still struggled.
Managing only 13 points, the offense consistently stalled on third down. Going 4-13 on third down still has Fulmer concerned.
"We were terrible on third down," he said. "We were not as efficient as we need to be.
On the other side of the ball, the defense continued to dominate. Eric Berry shined on defense with an interception and a 48-yard return that set up a Volunteer field goal. The defense shut down the Huskies in the red zone, forcing them to settle for field goals.
"Our defense has played at a high level all year", Fulmer said.
The defense has held the team together as the offense has struggled to find consistency.
Moore led the team in receiving with three catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Gerald Jones caught a 43-yard pass from Stephens and finished with two catches for 50 yards.
"He (Stephens) was more pumped than anyone on offense," Jones said. "Obviously, it showed on the field."
Arian Foster found some room to run. The tailback averaged 4.2 yards-per-carry rushing for 75 yards on 18 carries. Montario Hardesty added 20 yards on the ground.
The Vols improve to 2-3 and look forward to a trip to Athens, Ga. to face the Georgia Bulldogs.
Fulmer said that Stephens will remain the starter as the team begins preparations for the Bulldogs.
"We made some strides tonight, but we're still very much a work in progress.Fulmer on the offenseWe made some strides tonight, but we're still very much a work in progress," Fulmer said.
The Vols will look to turn the season around with their next four games coming against SEC opponents. After Georgia, the Vols play Mississippi State, Alabama, and South Carolina.