KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 15 Tennessee Vols (3-0) came into Saturday night’s game against Akron (1-2) with one thing in mind – don’t look ahead. Head coach Josh Heupel made sure his team did exactly that. Tennessee came out well prepared and hit Akron quick and often en route to a 63-6 win at Neyland Stadium. The win gives the Vols a 3-0 record for the first time since 2016.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker had another solid performance throwing for 251 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half. Hooker finished with 298 total yards on 14-18 passing.
Junior wide receiver Jalin Hyatt was all over the field and found himself on the receiving end of both of those Hooker touchdowns, hauling in 57- and 48-yard touchdown passes.
Hyatt, through three games, has already surpassed all of his stat totals from last season after having a career day against the Zips and the coaching staff has taken notice of the jump.
“No shortcuts. (He’s) a guy that wanted to be great a year ago and then worked to be great this entire offseason,” said Heupel. “His best football is still out there and he’s going to keep chasing it.”
The Vols also got a solid performance from the run game totaling 238 yards on the ground. Jaylen Wright saw a majority of the carries accumulating 96 rushing yards and adding two touchdowns. Freshman running back Dylan Sampson also contributed two touchdowns on the ground as he continues to showcase his speed and importance for a Tennessee backfield that continues to be stretched thin.
Starting running back Jabari Small left the game soon after the Vols began their opening drive and never returned to the field. Heupel didn’t provide an injury update regarding his status or that of wide receiver Cedric Tillman who went down with a lower body injury in the second quarter and also did not return, but didn’t seem too concerned about the injuries.
Despite missing their main running back and wide receiver for most of the game, the Tennessee offense didn’t miss a beat as they out-gained Akron by 400 total yards (676). The Zips were in the negative in rushing yards until deep into the third quarter and struggled to close out some of their best drives of the night.
One resulted in a missed field goal while the other ended with a lost fumble in the endzone after all-SEC linebacker Jeremy Banks knocked the ball loose at the five yard line. Add in four sacks and eleven tackles-for-loss given up and it was a disastrous night on offense for Akron.
While there was plenty to cheer about for the Tennessee offense and defense, there were also things they will have to clean up before SEC play begins. The Vols had many self-inflicted wounds as they accounted for 118 penalty yards for the game. One of those was a personal foul penalty committed by wide receiver Jimmy Calloway who seemed to have his face mask pulled by a defender and promptly reacted by throwing a few punches at the player. Calloway was hit with two personal foul penalties and ejected from the game. Teammate Jalin Hyatt said after the game that the display wasn’t indicative of who Calloway is as a player and that he had already apologized to the whole team. Hyatt also said he told him to hold his head up.
All things aside, it was still a very successful night for the Vols across the board. Even in attendance. Neyland Stadium saw its first sold out non-conference game since 2015 when Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners came to town. Now, Tennessee is set to begin conference play and in a big way as usual for the Vols. They will host arch-rival No. 18 Florida (2-1) next Saturday, Sept. 24 in what will be another sold out and checkered Neyland Stadium. Fans can watch the game at 3:30 P.M. EST on CBS.
The Vols are opening as a seven point favorite over the Gators, who are coming off another close finish at home and will look to be successful in their first game outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.