Photo by Riley Haltom (@rileyhaltom)
By Tucker Harlin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn- No. 17 Tennessee (7-2, 3-2) set multiple program records in its 59-3 win over Connecticut (1-7) Saturday.
For starters, the Vols scored three defensive touchdowns in their victory, the most in a game since box scoring began in 1949. It was the first time the Vols scored two pick sixes in a game since the game against Western Kentucky in 2013.
“Great performance up front and on the back end in the middle part of the football game,” head coach Josh Heupel said about the defense. “I wouldn’t say it’s the best performance that we’re capable of, we had way too many penalties.”
The Vols struck on their second play from scrimmage. Running back Jaylen Wright burst up the middle for 82 yards and a quick touchdown to give the Vols a seven-point advantage seconds into the game.
Wright achieved three different milestones in the game.
For one, his touchdown was the ninth longest rush touchdown in Vol football history.
Secondly, Wright ran for over 100 yards for the sixth time this year. The last Vols running back to record six 100-yard rushing games in a single season was Jalen Hurd back in 2015.
Lastly, his performance put him over 2,000 career rush yards for his career in Knoxville.
“It means a lot, but there’s still more work to be put in,” Wright said. “I want more, so I’ve got to keep going.”
Following a punt exchange, the Huskies sustained a drive that put them inside the 10-yard line. A pair of bad snaps killed the drive and forced them to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
The Vols came back with a quick response.
A pair of Jaylen Wright runs gave the Vols a first down at their 40-yard line. The next play, Joe Milton found receiver Ramel Keyton. Keyton was completely lost by the Husky secondary and jogged into the end zone to extend the lead to 11.
With the touchdown pass, Milton is now tied for the third-longest consecutive number of games with a passing touchdown at 13 games in a row along with Tony Robinson.
The Vols turned the Huskies over on downs and promptly marched down the field. The Vols punched in their third touchdown of the afternoon on a bootleg to the left by Milton.
The Huskies had another empty series and the Vols capitalized on it.
Two Dylan Sampson runs gave the Vols a first down. Milton hit receiver Squirrel White in stride and White put on the burners, making it 28-3.
“I wasn’t surprised at all by the amount of open field I had,” White said. “I had seen the safety back off so I knew I had the middle of the field open.”
Three plays into the following possession, corner Gabe Jeudy-Lally stripped Huskies receiver Geordon Porter at the 28-yard line. The ball was kicked back four yards, and defensive end Tyler Baron scooped it up and took it to the end zone to give the Vols the 32-point advantage they took into the locker room.
“I want to shout out Gabe Jeudy-Lally, it was a great defensive play by him,” Baron said. “I had a little PTSD (from the Ole Miss game in 2021) and I thought it might get called back.”
Despite kicking off, the Vols scored on the first play from scrimmage of the second half.
Huskies quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson stared down Vols safety Jaylen McCollough on his throw. McCollough promptly returned the interception for a pick six, stretching the lead to 39.
The Vols scored their third defensive touchdown of the afternoon on the ensuing possession. Roberson’s pass to the outside on third down found the waiting arms of linebacker Aaron Beasley, who returned it 39 yards for the score to push it to 49-3.
“I was really supposed to squeeze and deliver to my next man in the zone,” Beasley said. “But I just felt like the quarterback was going to throw it, so I stayed and tried to make a play.”
The Vols forced the Huskies to punt, and Nico Iamaleava quarterbacked the first scoring drive of his Vol career.
Early portions of the drive were highlighted by a run by Iamaleava and passes to return specialist Dee Williams, who got his first offensive touches as a Vols. The drive was capped by a pair of passes to tight end McCallan Castles, one of which was the 19-yard score.
“The way the season’s unfolded, we just haven’t had a lot of opportunities to get some guys further down our depth chart some action,” Heupel said about Iamaleava. “I thought he (Iamaleava) handled parts of the game very well, but there are learning opportunities for him. I thought he was timely using his feet and accurate with the football for the most part.”
The Vols conclude road play in the SEC with a trip to Missouri next weekend. A kickoff time and the network has yet to be announced.