KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Jonathan Crompton threw for two touchdowns as Tennessee turned to its unsteady passing game to beat Ohio 34-23 Saturday night.
Crompton threw a 26-yard screen pass to Bryce Brown to give the Vols (2-2) a 31-20 lead with 2:38 in the third quarter and lobbed a 3-yard scoring strike to Brandon Warren at the end of the first.
With a stable of tough running backs, the Vols relied on their strong running game in their first three games to protect the turnover-prone passing game. Against the Bobcats, they rushed for 177 yards while Crompton completed 17 of 34 passes for 222 yards.
Ohio (2-2) kept Tennessee uncomfortable by taking advantage of mistakes and passing for 319 yards against a Vols defense that entered the game allowing an average 88.33 yards by air per game.
Crompton threw his eighth interception of the season to Noah Keller, who returned it 10 yards to the Tennessee 30. Theo Scott connected with LaVon Brazill on a 2-yard touchdown pass four plays later, giving the Bobcats a 14-7 lead with 7:08 in the first quarter.
Scott finished 30-for-52. Brazill had 92 yards on eight catches, and Taylor Price added 90 yards on four catches.
Chris Garrett took advantage of the Vols' poor special teams coverage and returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
Tennessee, which entered the game ranked fifth in total defense in the FBS, held the Bobcats to only 21 yards rushing on 17 carries.
The Vols were also strong on the ground on offense. Montario Hardesty ran 20 times for 140 yards and an 11-yard touchdown and now has 1,531 career yards rushing.
Bryce Brown added 56 yards rushing and caught two passes for 60 yards, including a 34-yard catch on the second play of the game.
Tennessee will have a tough time regrouping before facing Auburn at home next week with several Vols leaving the game because of injury. Coach Lane Kiffin said starting middle linebacker Nick Reveiz was likely lost for the season after taking a hard hit on his right knee.
Even though rain earlier in the day kept the attendance at Neyland Stadium down, the 95,535 in attendance made up the second-largest crowd in Ohio's history.
Opening statement: "It's good to get a win. We haven't won since the opener. We talked about it. You can't get to 3-2 or 4-2 until you get to 2-2. So it's good to see the win. It was a tough day for us. You saw injuries, people got banged up on the last series. We need guys to step up. We talk about it all the time, about preparation. You're supposed to prepare like a starter, so there's no excuse of not having enough reps or not being in there. That was our plan since the day we got here, to develop depth so that when these things happen, guys can go and make plays.
"We looked like a different defense today than what you're used to seeing. We've got to make plays, it doesn't matter who's in there. There's no excuses. We've got to play better.
"We shuffled the offensive line around today. Same thing. I don't care who's in there. Make the plays. Do things right. You've got a third down at the end of the game. To make a first down you've got six yards to go. We put our defense back on the field. On a left guard fan, don't miss the fan so we get hit for a 1-yard loss. It's the little things.
"We're a long ways away from being a championship team, as you saw today. You saw a different gameplan. You saw us try to throw it around, I think, 28 times in the first half and we got back to what we do and threw it, I think, eight times in the second half. We've got a long ways to go."
On going to the run game in the second half: "I wasn't pleased. I was pleased with the drive before the half, the 2 minute. We have not done very well on 2-minute drills so far this year through the first three games. Two games at the end we threw an interception in the 2-minute drill. We threw an interception in the first half against UCLA in 2-minute. It was good to see us do better in 2-minute. That was a big field goal we got there. But I wasn't going to let the second half go the way the first half did, even though we had some success at times. You always want to get back to 50/50 in the run game vs. the pass game because that's our style. The plan was to throw it around early and come back and pound the ball at them. We did well at times, and other times our inconsistency showed up."
On Dennis Rogan being suspended: "Dennis was suspended as an administrative reason. He will be back next week. We talk about doing the things right and everybody doing them. When people are selfish and don't do the little things right, they don't play. And it affects their team. We missed him today out there. The moral of the story is do things right off the field, and then you'll be able to play."
On injuries to several key players on defense: "I think the middle linebacker [Nick Reveiz] is out for the year. He blew his knee out. The same linebacker, LaMarcus Thompson, couldn't go. Herman Lathers came out with a concussion and couldn't go back in. Chris Walker came out with a back injury and couldn't go back in. Wes Brown's knee didn't allow him to go today. We're pretty beat up over there, but we've got to get better. We've got to improve our depth. That's why we have competition so that our depth is improving and our backups aren't sitting there."
RB Montario Hardesty
Opening Statement: "It was a great win for us again tonight. We came into the week preaching that we're going into a tough SEC stretch now with three games at home, and we want to win all three of them. So, we started off with a great win for our team. It wasn't the prettiest win, but it was a win for us. Now we can focus on the next game that we have coming up, and that's a good Auburn team coming into our house."
On his increased carries in the second half (3 in the first; 17 in the second): "I'm definitely willing to accept the challenge. It doesn't hurt me that Coach Kiffin was giving me the ball. I like it. I'm fine. I get iced up on Sundays and get back out there on Mondays."
DE Chris Walker
On the interception: "I saw the tight end there, and I thought I would beat the tight end. I saw him drifting little bit and coming alive, and I knew something was up. The ball came right to me, and I caught it and knew what to do with it."
Ohio Locker Room
Head Coach Frank Solich
Opening Comments: "I'm pleased with the effort of our entire ball club on both sides of the ball and special teams. I thought we made a lot of plays, but we left a lot of plays on the field. If you can't move the ball against them, then it's going to be a long night, so you have to find ways to do that."
On the offense as a whole: "I feel good about the fact that we made some plays. That's what you've got to do if you're going to be a good offensive football team, and I think we can be a pretty good team on both sides of the football. The offense was a little slower starting this year, but I think they've made some strides in the last two ballgames. Hopefully, we'll keep improving."
On Tennessee safety Eric Berry: "You have to be aware of him, but if you're going to execute an offense, you can't just try to play around him. You've got to execute your entire offense and sometimes that means there's going to be times where you're going to have to get something done against him. He's a great player, there's no question about it. We made some plays on him in terms of getting open downfield and getting some things done."
RB/KR Chris Garrett
On his kick return for a touchdown in the first quarter: "It started out with Coach Solich coming to me at the hotel and telling me that I needed to have a big game return-wise. He made more of an emphasis on trying to score on special teams. The kick-off return team, we took it to heart. We said we were going to take it to the hut on the first one. We just wanted to score. Everybody had their guy. I just hit the lane and the rest is history. I'm just happy that I got the opportunity to showcase my talent on the big stage even though we lost. We're going to build on this game and keep rolling into MAC play."
On competing against an SEC opponent before heading into their conference schedule: "It shows that we can play through anything - whether we are coming from behind or if we are up. It shows that we can pull through adversity. We played an SEC team and they were very tough. My hat is off to them. In the MAC we aren't going to see the level of talent that we saw tonight. As a staff and as a collective group I think we feel pretty confident heading into MAC play because obviously we can get things done offensively and defensively. We can cause turnovers. We can score on any given play. We take this game as a teaching tool. It has opened our eyes even wider. If we play together there is nobody that can stop us."
LB Noah Keller
On hanging close with Tennessee: "It was a close game. I thought we were definitely in it. We needed to get few more breaks; make a few more plays. We've had a tough non-conference schedule and we're ready to get into conference play and get it rolling."
On if he expected the Vols to throw as much as they did: "No, not necessarily. We were expecting them to come out and run more. We were preparing for them to come out, try to get in two-back sets and run it at us. I thought in the early quarters we did a better job of stopping them. I thought at the end they started to break a lot more runs and we weren't doing as good of a job."
On the Bobcats defensive game plan: "That was the hope (to force Tennessee to pass). We knew their o-line was very great and they could zone block very well. We definitely wanted to stop their two-man running game and get some pressure on them to throw to try to force Jonathan Crompton into making some bad throws. We had some chances to get some more picks than we had but we never capitalized on them."
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