A week after a terrible loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Vols got things back on track during their home opener against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers on Saturday.
It took almost a full quarter and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown to get things going, but once they did - it was game over for the Buccaneers.
Things looked promising for Tennessee on their first offensive drive of the game after Jarrett Guarantano hit a wide-open Josh Palmer for a 51-yard gain inside the Bucs’ six-yard line, but the Vols only managed a field goal.
The Vols were forced to punt on their second drive of the game and gave ETSU the ball back on their own 20. After holding the Bucs to their second three-and-out, Tennessee blocked the punt and Marquill Osborne took it into the endzone for the first touchdown of the game, giving UT a 10-0 lead.
Despite the huge play, the offense - especially the offensive line - continued to struggle. The Vols had (-1) rushing yards as a team entering the second quarter.
That changed quickly after a weather delay postponed the game for about an hour. Tennessee’s first play from scrimmage after the delay was a handoff to Jeremy Banks that gained 15 yards right off the bat.
A DPI call on a crucial 3rd-and-4 led to another huge catch, except this time it was Marquez Callaway with a 51-yard reception that brought Tennessee down to the one-yard line.
Banks punched it in just two plays later to extend the lead, 17-0.
The offense hadn’t been the model of efficiency up to this point, but fortunately they had the defense to bail them out. Freshman Bryce Thompson picked off Buccaneer quarterback Logan Marchi and ran the ball back to the Bucs’ one-yard-line.
After recording his first career touchdown, Banks drove it in again from three yards out to extend the lead, 24-0.
The onslaught didn’t stop there. Just three plays later, middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland, Jr. took another Marchi interception to the house to make the score, 31-0
By this time, it was enough for Guarantano and the first-string offense, so Jeremy Pruitt decided to bring in grad-transfer Keller Chryst.
Chryst’s first drive was close to near perfection. He completed his only pass to tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson for a 12-yard gain and the rushing offense did the rest from there. A 20-yard end-around to Palmer gave the Vols their fifth touchdown of the game and further increased the lead to 38-0.
Tennessee finished the first half with 74 yards rushing after entering the second quarter with (-1) yards on the ground. The Bucs led the Vols at halftime in time of possession - but that was it.
In an odd move, the Vols decided to bring Guarantano back in to start the second half. It turned out to be a great decision as a Banks fumble was reversed and Tennessee was able to score again off a Madre London three-yard rush to make the game 45-0.
The Bucs were able to drive down and get a field goal out of their next possession to make the game, 45-3. But Tennessee had a quick answer. It was Keller Chryst getting back in under center, who delivered a quick strike to Jordan Murphy for the score. It was a 50 yard pass to extend the lead to 52-3.
ETSU would go on to muff a punt later in the 4th quarter, setting up Madre London for another touchdown run.
That would do it from Knoxville. Tennessee improves to 1-1 with a 59-3 final.