Tennessee looked eager to put a week full of chaos behind them and take the field this homecoming Saturday. The Volunteers scored early and often in their unblemished victory over Tennessee Tech. Even with their even mix of starters and backups gaining valuable reps, the Vols dominated the Golden Eagles 55-0.
Josh Dobbs played statistically his most efficient game of his career. Although he took his final snap of the game at the 5:42 mark in the second quarter, the senior quarterback finished the day 12-of-13 for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Dobbs capped off the Volunteers’ first two drives of the game with touchdown passes to Josh Malone, the first for 30 yards and the second for 43 yards. After Dobbs was done for the day, Quinten Dormady commanded the offense well coming off the bench. Dormady lead the offense in his first drive down the field for a touchdown in only three plays, including a 33-yard strike to Tyler Byrd. Even Sherion Jones saw time late in the game, completing his only pass for two yards. Overall the quarterbacks had a remarkably effective performance.
After the departure of Jalen Hurd, Saturday marked John Kelly’s first start as a Tennessee Vol. In his second carry on the day, Kelly broke through a small hole on the line and exploded for a 73-yard touchdown. Freshmen Carlin Fils-Aime and Jeremy Lewis also got meaningful snaps as the game continued. Fils-Aime scored his first and second career touchdowns in goal line scenarios. The Vols’ ground game provided a strong balance, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord started the game aggressively through the air, electing to throw in five of the offense’s first six plays. Throughout the game, 11 different receivers caught passes, including newcomers Jeff George, Eli Wolf and Marquez Callaway who hauled in their first career receptions. Josh Malone caught all five of his targets for 112 yards and two touchdowns, his first since the win over Florida. Freshman Brandon Johnson saw the most action of his career, catching five passes for 64 yards. Although a couple of the young players had some drops, the receivers were able to easily create separation against Tennessee Tech.
Last week was the first week where the team finally seemed healthy, but could not get the job done. On Saturday, not only did Tennessee not allow a sack, but the Vols didn’t have a single negative yardage play from scrimmage. They created a strong pocket for the quarterbacks and provided a strong push for the running backs. If they can build on this performance for the future, this offense can score a lot of points.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, the Vols defensive line completely dominated. The Golden Eagles only averaged 1.6 yards per carry on 38 rushes. Additionally, the Vols defensive line had three sacks and eight tackles for loss. All-American candidate Derek Barnett had a relatively quiet game only posting one tackle, however he appeared to getting some well needed rest. That paved the way for young guys like Derrell Taylor who had a strong game with three tackles and one TFL.
The Vols’ linebackers also had a strong performance. Elliot Berry played well in his first career start with three tackles. However, the best play of the day came from Cortez McDowell, who registered his first career interception. McDowell sunk in his zone on a fourth down and Tennessee Tech’s quarterback Michael Birdsong never saw him.
With injuries to Cam Sutton, Malik Foreman and Micah Abernathy, Tennessee’s defensive backs have struggled throughout the season. Although they only allowed 164 yards through the air, the Vols still occasionally got lost in coverage. Although Emmanuel Moseley registered six tackles and a pass breakup, he was on the receiving end of several long catches from Tennessee Tech wide receiver Dontez Byrd. The Vols allowed Byrd nine catches for 121 yards. Additionally, Justin Martin had both hot and cold moments in his first start of the season. Freshman Nigel Warrior led the team in tackles with seven, including one for loss.
The special teams unit had a flawless performance on Saturday. Trevor Daniel only punted the ball three times, but averaged 45.7 yards per punt with a long of 57. Additionally, Aaron Medley looked strong, making both of his field goal attempts of 19 and 42 yards.
In the return game, Tyler Byrd returned Tennessee Tech’s only kickoff for 31 yards. Also, freshman Marquez Callaway got his first look at punt returner of his career. He responded favorably, returning his first punt for 51 yards and his second all the way back, 63 yards for his first career touchdown. If Alvin Kamara does not return to the field next week, look for Callaway to potentially get additional reps in the return game.
Edited by Dalton King
Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics