KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– The Tennessee Volunteers (1-0) displayed their high-tempo, explosive offense in Thursday night’s 59-10 domination over Ball State (0-1) to open the 2022 season.
The Vols’ offense totaled 569 total yards and scored eight total touchdowns against the Cardinals, while backing their effort with a solid defensive performance.
The Vols’ energy coming into the 2022 opener immediately poured onto the field on the first play of the game after Tennessee junior defensive back Tamarion McDonald intercepted Ball State quarterback John Paddock on the first play of the game. The Vols’ offense would feed off the play and on their first offensive snap, graduate quarterback Hendon Hooker found junior wide receiver Jalin Hyatt for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
The duo of plays opened up what would turn into a huge first half for Tennessee.
Tennessee’s second drive ended in a 33-yard field goal from Chase McGrath, before back-to-back touchdown drives were capped off by Hooker rushing scores from one and three yards out. Tennessee’s first and only punt of the half came with 8:24 left in the second quarter, however, the Vols would find pay dirt twice more before halftime thanks to a Jabari Small rushing touchdown and a Hooker 16-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Walker Merrill.
The score at halftime was 38-0, Vols.
The second half pretty much followed the trend of the first.
Hooker opened the half with a 10-play, 93-yard drive that ended in a two-yard rushing touchdown from sophomore running back Jaylen Wright, which would end the starting quarterback’s day.
Ball State was able to find the end zone in the second half, completing a 10-play, 75-yard drive of their own with a three-yard touchdown pass from Paddock to tight end Tanner Koziol. However, the Vols weren’t slowing down.
Back-up quarterback Joe Milton III enter the game in the third quarter and led Tennessee to a 13-play, 78-yard scoring drive that ended with a touchdown rush from freshman running back Dylan Sampson, the first of his career. Milton’s second drive was much of the same, except it ended in a 53-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jimmy Holiday to make the score 59-7.
The rest of the game for Tennessee was spent getting backups playing time, with guys like Tayven Jackson, Justin Williams-Thomas, and Navy Shuler getting some action. Ball State would eventually score once more via the field goal, however it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the Tennessee lead.
Tennessee picked up exactly where it left off. And a majority of the reason for that is because of Hendon Hooker.
The Vols’ starting quarterback had an impressive night, accounting for four total touchdowns, and he didn’t play the final quarter and a half. Hooker finished his shortened night 18-25 for 221 yards with two touchdowns through the air, and added another two rushing touchdowns on five attempts for 12 yards. The graduate quarterback seemed poised and decisive, and showed exactly why he is one of the nation’s top signal callers.
One of the most impressive days came from the wide receiver room, which showed how much depth the Vols have at the position. As expected, Cedric Tillman led the way in catches and yardage for Tennessee, however the Vols saw a ton of flashes from guys like Bru McCoy, Ramel Keyton, Jimmy Holiday, and Walker Merrill. Tennessee had 10 different pass catchers in Thursday’s win, all of whom had double-digit yardage in the game.
Speaking of depth, Tennessee got a chance to see what its quarterback room looked like, and it did not disappoint. Backup Joe Milton III had an impressive stat line, completing eight of nine passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Milton look poised and decisive himself, and made several throws that he would have missed in 2021. Despite the limited sample size, Milton’s performance started to prove himself to be a viable option for Tennessee if the situation ever arose for the Vols to need him later in the season.
Overall, the Vols played as expected in the opener. They scored a lot of points, and the defense played well enough to keep the Ball State offense off the board for a majority of the game. While there are still some things to clean up (penalties, turnovers, etc.), Thursday was a good start to the 2022 season for the Vols.
However, Tennessee can’t get comfortable with tonight’s performance, especially with the increase in competition from here on out. Up next, Tennessee will head to No. 17 Pittsburgh (1-0) on Sept. 10 to take on the Panthers in part two of the Johnny Majors Classic. Pitt is coming off a big 38-31 win over West Virginia on Thursday night, so they will be set and ready to take on the Vols once again.