Vols Soar Past Golden Eagles, 56-0
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Athletics) – Tennessee forced four turnovers and got touchdowns from eight different players, including one on defense, in a 56-0 blowout of Tennessee Tech on Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
In year one under head coach Josh Heupel, UT (2-1) has produced 30 or more points in its first three games of a season for the first time since 2004, when it did so vs. UNLV (42), Florida (30) and Louisiana Tech (42). This season, the Vols have scored 38 against Bowling Green, 34 vs. Pitt and 56 vs. Tennessee Tech (0-3). The shutout of the Golden Eagles was the Big Orange’s first since blanking Chattanooga, 45-0, on Sept. 14, 2019.
With an announced attendance of 80,053 for game three of the 2021 campaign, redshirt senior quarterback Hendon Hooker got his first start as a Vol and threw for a career-high-tying three touchdowns and carried for another. He ended the day 17 of 25 for 199 yards and was his team’s leading rusher with 64 yards on nine carries.
Hooker connected for scoring strikes with senior wide receiver JaVonta Payton (29 yards), redshirt senior receiver Velus Jones Jr. (45 yards) and redshirt junior tight end Jacob Warren (1 yard), all in the first half.
Scoring his rushing TD from one yard out in the third quarter, Hooker was joined in the scoring club on the ground by freshman running back Jaylen Wright (1 yard), junior running back Tiyon Evans and sophomore reserve quarterback Harrison Bailey (2 yards). UT ended up with 202 yards on the ground on 47 carries and accumulated 417 yards of total offense (5.3 yards per play).
Tennessee’s defense, meanwhile, spent all day frustrating the Golden Eagles, generating four sacks, tallying eight tackles for losses, breaking up seven passes and getting interceptions from four different players with 80 yards of combined return yardage. Senior corner Alontae Taylor, junior safety Jaylen McCollough, sophomore safety Tamarion McDonald and redshirt senior linebacker Solon Page III came away with errant Tennessee Tech passes, with Page III returning his 31 yards for a touchdown in the third stanza.
Seeing his first action as a Vol, sophomore defensive end Byron Young tied for the team lead in tackles (6) with senior defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon. UT limited the Golden Eagles to 179 total yards, including only 35 on the ground, and four-of-17 on third down conversions.
Tennessee got out to a 14-0 lead in the opening stanza, getting a short field on both scoring drives, thanks to a nifty, 25-yard punt return from Jones Jr. and later a 16-yard return by McCollough on his first career interception. That early scoring punch boosted UT’s advantage in the first quarter of three games this season to 38-0.
Hooker and company needed only 25 seconds to generate points after starting at the TTU 33 on their second possession of the afternoon. On the second play of the drive, the UT signal-caller found Payton in the corner of the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown pass. Senior placekicker Chase McGrath added the extra point to make it 7-0 Big Orange with 10:50 to go in the opening quarter after Payton recorded his first TD as a Vol.
Starting at the Tech 37 after McCollough’s pick, Tennessee required only five plays and 1:23 off the clock in tallying its second touchdown of the game. Hooker appeared to hit pay-dirt on a 23-yard run, but his elbow touched down just before crossing the goal line. With the QB getting credit for only 22 yards on the play, Wright finished the job by scoring from one yard out for the second week in a row. McGrath booted the PAT to push the Vol lead to 14-0 with 4:47 left in the first period.
The Big Orange tallied again just 2:47 into the second frame. Jones Jr. hauled in a short pass from Hooker and sped 45 yards into the checkerboard for his first score of the year. McGrath tacked on the point-after attempt to extend the home team’s lead to 21-0 with 12:13 left in the second.
The Golden Eagles threatened in the second quarter after Jayvian Allen forced a Vol fumble and Cameron Hudson recovered and returned it 30 yards to the UT 35. Tennessee Tech was unable to budge the Tennessee defense in three tries from scrimmage, however, and came up empty after Devin Parker’s 41-yard field goal attempt was off the mark at the 9:10 mark.
Following an exchange of punts, the Vols cashed in again with 49 seconds left before the half. After a 4th & 4 conversion on a 10-yard Hooker-to-Payton pass play to the Tech 20, Tennessee put six more on the board three plays later. Hooker’s one-yard toss to a wide-open Warren was the finishing blow. McGrath’s PAT sent the Big Orange into halftime with a 28-0 cushion.
Following Taylor’s interception midway through the third quarter and return of 29 yards to the TTU 49, the Vols moved quickly down the field, thanks to a 22-yard reception from sophomore wideout Jimmy Calloway and 16-yarder to freshman receiver Walker Merrill. Hooker capped the seven-play drive with a one-yard plunge over the right side. McGrath’s PAT boosted the lead to 35-0 with 8:47 remaining in the third period.
Page III updated the scoreboard in UT’s favor just 10 seconds later, picking off a Davis Shanley pass and taking it to the house. McGrath propelled the extra point through the uprights to make it 42-0 Vols with 8:37 left in the third frame.
After the Vols forced a three-and-out, Hooker marched the Big Orange 39 yards in seven plays, with Evans putting the finishing touches on it with a one-yard burst up the middle. McGrath’s PAT made it 49-0 with 3:38 to go in the third.
McDonald became the fourth and final Vol on the day to record an interception, stepping in front of Drew Martin’s pass and returning it to the Tennessee 48. With Bailey under center for his second series of the game, he marched the Vols 52 yards in 12 plays and ended the proceedings with a two-yard TD run, the first scoring rush of his career. Freshman placekicker JT Carver nailed his first career PAT to push the lead to 56-0 with 7:35 left in the game and account for the day’s final score.
The Vols play on the road for the first time this season next Saturday, as they travel to Gainesville to open SEC play against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. ET, with the contest being televised by ESPN.