All season, Tennessee fans have been waiting for a dominant performance, one in which backup players received actual playing time on the field.
Against Tennessee Tech on Saturday, they finally got their wish, as the Vols (6-3, 3-3 SEC) scored early and often in a dominant 55-0 win over Golden Eagles, giving backups on both sides of the ball spent plenty of playing time.
Starting quarterback Josh Dobbs impressed early, throwing two touchdowns in the first quarter and adding a third just five seconds into the second. New starting running back John Kelly made the most of his first opportunity, scoring on a 73-yard run late in the first quarter. Holding a commanding 28-0 lead with under five minutes left in the first half, head coach Butch Jones looked at his bench and began implementing the reserves.
Tennessee’s slow starts this year meant that its backups never received the playing time many fans might have expected. Backup quarterback Quinten Dormady saw a few snaps near the end of the blowout loss to Alabama, but that wasn’t the scenario fans were expecting.
The Tennessee Tech game was.
After junior defensive lineman Dimarya Mixon ended Tennessee Tech’s drive with his first career sack, Dormady took the field. His first attempt was a 33-yard completion to freshman receiver Tyler Byrd. Two plays later, freshman running back Carlin Fils-Aime capped the drive with his first career touchdown. If the drive was a glimpse into the future of the Tennessee offense, fans have reason to be optimistic.
Dormady had a solid game in his first extended playing time of the season, completing nine of his 13 passes for 109 yards. Fils-Aime didn’t have huge rushing numbers, but he scored a pair of touchdowns. Wide receivers Marquez Callaway and Jeff George each caught their first passes of the season, as did tight ends Jakob Johnson and Eli Wolf. Junior linebacker Cortez McDowell’s interception was the first of his career. Callaway also had his first chance to return punts, fielding two for 114 yards and a late touchdown.
Jones was pleased with the amount of players he was able to play, even if the team’s lack of depth due to a massive amount of injuries throughout the season was exposed.
“Lots of guys got playing time today, and they deserve that,” Jones said. “But I think you could also see that our lack of depth revealed itself in this game… They earned that time, though. Playing time is very, very sacred.”
Dobbs also had positive thoughts on the play of the reserves.
“The level of play didn’t drop off (when the backups came in),” the senior said. “It was really exciting to see.”
After three straight losses, a dominant win was therapeutic for the Vols. The chance to get some backups experience was just the icing on the cake.
Tennessee takes the field next Saturday against Kentucky in a matchup that could have major implications for the SEC East.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Hayley Pennesi, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics