May 21, 2024

No. 3 Tennessee vs. UT Martin Game Day Preview

The Vols will look to stay healthy and grab an easy win over the Skyhawks before taking on Kentucky the following week.

Jalin Hyatt (11) scores during the game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Alabama Crimson Tide at Neyland Stadium on Oct. 15, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. TNJN/Kate Ash.

After topping Alabama for the first time since 2006, No. 3 Tennessee (6-0, 3-0 SEC) will have a chance to catch its breath during an in-state matchup with UT Martin (4-2, 3-0 OVC) on Saturday.

Here is everything you need to know about this week’s game:

Last Week

In the Vols’ previous game, they upset then No. 3 Alabama 52-49 in dramatic fashion. After the two high-powered teams traded punches throughout the game, Tennessee sealed the win with a last-second field goal from Chase McGrath that fluttered just inches through the uprights. Fans promptly stormed the field, ripped down the goalposts and enjoyed traditional cigars.

The star of the game was Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt who finished with an astonishing stat line of six catches for 207 yards and five touchdowns. This scoring mark notched the school record and tied the SEC record for receiving touchdowns in a single game. His blazing speed torched the Crimson Tide secondary throughout the contest leading to big scores such as a 78-yard catch and run.

Delivering the ball to Hyatt was star quarterback Hendon Hooker. Although throwing his first interception of the season, Hooker dazzled with 385 yards and five touchdowns through the air and 56 yards on the ground. This performance had propelled Hooker toward the top of the Heisman conversation with him trailing just CJ Stroud at most sportsbooks.

Hooker’s favorite targets besides Hyatt were Ramel Keyton, Bru McCoy and Princeton Fant. Keyton has been thrust into the starting role in the replacement of Cedric Tillman but has carried his weight in his three starts. Against Alabama, he recorded 78 yards on five catches. McCoy also pitched in with two catches for 38 yards. At tight end, Fant ended with three catches for 24 yards and a rushing touchdown.

Hooker led the team in rush attempts but running backs Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small also carried the ball 12 times each. Wright would tally 71 yards while Small finished with 53 yards and a touchdown.

However, the unsung heroes of the game were the offensive line. They held Alabama’s ferocious pass rush in check throughout the game while only surrendering a single sack and two tackles for loss. The group gave Hooker plenty of time to find his targets and opened up run lanes for the tailbacks. Standing out was Darnell Wright who brought home a share of the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week award for his role in shutting down players such as Will Anderson Jr.

On defense, Tennessee struggled for the majority of the game. Reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young toyed with the pass rush, juking pursuers and finding holes in the weak secondary. He finished with 455 passing yards and two touchdowns. Jahmyr Gibbs also produced an incredible performance with 103 rushing yards and 48 receiving yards for three touchdowns. The defense did have a bend don’t break mentality, though, as it came up big in situations such as Alabama’s final drive of the game.

Perhaps the best defender, though, was Vol Nation. The over 100,000 fans packed into Neyland Stadium were rowdy and loud from start to finish while breaking the stadium’s noise level record. This played a big hand in forcing Alabama to be penalized 17 times for 130 yards.

The offensive fireworks were enough to lead the Vols to a win over one of their biggest rivals. It also shot Tennessee into the College Football Playoffs conversation with a ranking of No. 3 in the AP Poll. With this big win out of the way, a victory over No. 1 Georgia in a few weeks would almost certainly mean an SEC Championship appearance.

UT Martin’s Season

In the FCS, the Skyhawks are one of the best teams in the country. They are ranked 14 in the FCS Coaches Poll and won a game in the FCS Football Playoffs in 2021.

This year, they are off to a 4-2 start with their only losses coming to No. 5 (FCS) Missouri State and Boise State. Within the OVC, UT Martin has dominated its opponents with a combined score of 146-70 in its 3-0 start.

The key to the Skyhawks’ success has been their impressive offense. UT Martin ranks 11th in the FCS in points per game at 37.5. Commanding the offense is Dresser Winn who averages 289.5 passing yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game. He has also only thrown two interceptions and been sacked once on the year.

In the backfield, the Skyhawks have a two-headed monster at running back. Zak Wallace averages 94.5 rushing yards a game and Sam Franklin averages 78.6. The two backs have also combined for 16 touchdowns.

At wide receiver, Colton Dowell leads the group with 96.2 receiving yards per game. DeVonte Tanksley is right behind him at 88.5.

On defense, UT Martin has had its struggles. They come into the game giving up the 55th most points out of FCS programs at 26.7. Against its best opponent so far, it gave up 30 points to a pedestrian Boise State attack.

Tennessee should have no trouble scoring at will on the Skyhawks’ defense no matter who is on the field for the Vols. With backups in the game defensively, though, there’s a chance UT Martin could find moderate success moving the ball.

Vols vs. Skyhawks History

Saturday’s matchup will be just the second time the programs have ever met on the gridiron.

The first contest took place in 2010 at Neyland Stadium. The Vols easily rolled to a 50-0 win where Matt Sims and Tyler Bray combined for 205 yards, a touchdown and an interception through the air. The Vols dominated the ground game, totaling 346 yards and four touchdowns on the day. Tauren Poole led the group with 112 yards and two scores.

On defense, UT Martin struggled to gain yards while throwing interceptions to both Prentiss Waggner and Austin Johnson. The Skyhawks claimed just three first downs and 81 yards in the contest.

5 Keys to the Game

Stay healthy

Against Akron, Tennessee won the game convincingly but failed to stay healthy. With big games against Kentucky and Georgia right around the corner, it will be imperative for the Vols’ starters to get in and get out without getting banged up.

Jump to a quick lead

The world will be watching this game hoping for the nation’s third-ranked team to fall in a dramatic upset. This needs to be dealt with early through quick scores and defensive stops. If Tennessee can jump out to a multiple-touchdown lead in the first quarter, it will open up a situation where the Vols can play reserves and ease to a victory.

Get young players playtime

With the back half of the season getting started, Tennessee will need to continue to develop its depth and young players. This is a perfect opportunity to do so against an inferior opponent. Players such as Squirrel White, Elijah Herring, Tyre West, Joshua Josephs, Dylan Sampson and other freshmen should get ample playing time.

Limit penalties

There’s really no reason for Tennessee to suffer from multiple penalties. The Vols need to stay disciplined, especially before the snap, and avoid any simple mistakes. It’s unreasonable to expect no miscues throughout the game, but limiting it to just a couple would be a success. It would also show the level of coaching some of the inexperienced players have been receiving in practice.

Have fun

This one is for the fans and players. There are only so many games held in Neyland Stadium a year and it shouldn’t be lost upon spectators or athletes. Enjoy tailgating, show up to the Vol Walk and cheer on the Vols throughout the game. With a win almost certain, older players need to encourage younger ones and have fun while playing. Homecoming being held this week also creates a fun environment for everyone to enjoy.

Editor’s Pick

This matchup should be decided by the end of the first quarter. Realistically, Tennessee could win this game without playing a single starter if it wanted to.

The Vols will score on each of its opening four drives and put away the Skyhawks quickly. Hooker will find Hyatt and Keyton streaking open past the defense and Small and Wright will get it going early on the ground.

At halftime, Joe Milton will enter the game and continue the blowout. Sampson, White and other freshmen will get plenty of opportunities throughout the game, as well.

Defensively, UT Martin will find the endzone twice in the later portion of the game but it will be just a drop in the ocean as Tennessee will be up an insurmountable margin.

Tennessee – 59
UT Martin – 14

Game Time and Coverage

Kickoff is at noon EST at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. The game will be aired on SECN and TNJN will have more coverage following the game.

Sports Editor | + posts

Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at rsylvia@vols.utk.edu