Photo Credit: University of Tennessee Athletics (@Vol_Football)
By Tucker Harlin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 23 Tennessee (3-1) defeated UTSA (1-3) 45-14 in Neyland Stadium Saturday. An early offensive surge from the Vols put the game out of reach for the Roadrunners.
“It was a great start to the football game, we played well early,” said Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel. “In the third quarter and end of the second quarter, we didn’t operate as efficiently as we needed to.”
Tennessee struck on its first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Joe Milton faked a handoff and ran 81 yards to the end zone, giving the Vols a lead just seconds into the game. It was the longest touchdown run by a quarterback in Tennessee football history.
“My tire kind of blew out on the 20,” Milton said about the run. “Sometimes you’ve got to ride on a spare tire.”
After the defense forced a three and out, the Vols cashed in again. A 62-yard scoring drive full of short passing plays ended with a 10-yard Dylan Sampson touchdown run, giving the Vols a 14-point advantage.
“Dylan’s been the same guy on the practice field and in the locker room,” Heupel said about Sampson. “He’s competitive and he’s willing to do whatever to help the team.”
The Roadrunners had a couple of opportunities to score. The Vols blocked their next punt, but Cam Seldon’s attempt to recover several yards down field failed and the Roadrunners took over. The Roadrunners then had a strong drive in progress, but it stalled out on fourth down in the red zone.
“That’s a teaching moment you don’t want to have,” Heupel said about Seldon’s error. “There’s a couple of unique things that transpired in that game, and you can’t do that as a football team.”
The Roadrunners faked a punt on the following possession but were walled up a yard short of the line to gain.
A 40-yard run by Jabari Small on the next possession took the Vols to the UTSA 18-yard line. The Vols scored on the following play with an 18-yard strike to Kaleb Webb, extending the lead to 21.
“As soon as I caught it, my eyes got really big,” Webb said about his first career touchdown. “It’s not something we rep often but we go through it in practice in case we need it. It was a fake screen and I had to take the middle.”
After another Roadrunner three and out, the Vols found the end zone once more. The Vols snapped the ball before the Roadrunners could get their extra man off the field. Joe Milton took advantage of the free play and connected with Ramel Keyton for a 48-yard touchdown, taking the lead up to 28.
The teams exchanged punts on their next two possessions. The Roadrunners had a drive going, but a Tamarion McDonald pick at the 50-yard line halted any further progress.
Dylan Sampson began Tennessee’s possession with a 44-yard run to put Tennessee in the red zone. The Vols’ drive stalled out inside the 10, but they would come away with points as Charles Campbell hit a 29-yard field goal, giving them a 31-point lead they would take to halftime with them.
The Roadrunners made a quarterback change to their third-string Owen McCown in the third quarter, and they started out the second half by manufacturing a 75-yard scoring drive. The drive ate away nearly half the third quarter and ended in a 3-yard fade in the end zone to Josh Cephus, making it a 31-7 contest.
After a Tennessee three and out, UTSA struck again. Just four plays into the drive, McCown found Knoxville native Tykee Ogle-Kellogg for a 43-yard touchdown, trimming the Roadrunners’ deficit to 17.
“We preach to step on their necks and keep our foot down,” said defensive lineman Omari Thomas on the slow start to the second half. “There has to continue to be no drop off. It allows us to go back, watch the film, and keep practicing.”
After a brief period of offensive inactivity, the Vols found more life in the fourth quarter. A shovel pass from Joe Milton to Dylan Sampson to end the third quarter helped the Vols continue a drive that ended in a 1-yard Jabari Small rush touchdown to make it 38-14.
After another Roadrunner three and out, the Vols took over at their own 30-yard line. Dylan Sampson proceeded to rip off a 29-yard and a 41-yard run on consecutive plays, putting the Vols ahead by 31. Sampson finished the game with 139 yards on the ground, a career high.
“There’s a difference between hard work and competing,” Sampson said. “My mindset when I have the ball in my hand is that I want to be a playmaker. I don’t want to be tackled, I want to score.”
Tennessee will stay home next week to take on South Carolina in Neyland Stadium. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET and will air on SEC Network.