The Tennessee Volunteers (4-5) knew that it needed a win against the UAB Blazers (6-2) if it wanted to keep its bowl hopes alive.
Well, it seems to safe to say that the Vols’ hopes are still alive after a 30-7 drubbing of the Blazers in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
Bryce Thompson picked off Tyler Johnston III on the first play of the game, giving the Vols the ball at the UAB19. J.T. Shrout and the UT offense went three-and-out, but Brent Cimaglia bailed them out with a 36-yard field goal, giving the Vols a 3-0 lead with 13:27 to go in the first quarter.
Tennessee’s defense was able to limit UAB on its next offensive drive and force a punt. Big plays from Dominick Wood-Anderson and Ty Chandler helped move the Vols back into field goal territory and Cimaglia hit a 48-yard attempt to give the Vols a 6-0 lead with 4:44 left in the first quarter.
Darrell Taylor ended all hope for points with a third-down sack on the next drive. Chandler brought the Vols into UAB territory with a 31-yard run, but a Jordan Smith sack killed all momentum and the Vols had the punt the ball away.
Thompson was able to pick off Johnston again, but another UAB sack - this time by Tony Fair - killed any chance of a touchdown. Fortunately, the Vols have Cimaglia. He nailed a career-long 53-yarder to give the Vols a 9-0 lead with 13:38 left in the first half.
The Tennessee defense forced its third turnover of the game on the first play of UAB’s next drive. This time, it was a Johnston fumble on a one-yard scramble. Darel Middleton was able to knock the ball out and Aubrey Solomon made the recovery.
It looked like UAB was going to come up with another stop, but Garrett Marino was called for unnecessary roughness for launching himself into Trey Smith after the play was over. Instead of a 3rd-and-18, it was now a 1st-and-10 from the UAB11. Chandler scored from 11 yards out on the next play and Cimaglia hit the PAT to give the Vols a 16-0 lead with 11:36 to go in the first half.
Neither team could really get anything going until Thompson’s third interception of the first half gave the Vols possession at the UAB43. An 11-yard completion to Jauan Jennings and a defensive pass interference call on Dy’jonn Turner took the Vols into the red zone. Guarantano found Marquez Callaway on a slant on 3rd-and-6 to give Tennessee a 1st-and-goal at the UAB3. Jennings then took a direct snap on the next play and plowed his way into the end zone and the Vols were cookin’ with a 23-0 lead.
Tennessee’s defense was able to hold UAB’s offense again, which gave Guarantano and the offense another shot at some points before halftime. Guarantano drove his team into the red zone, but attempted an ill-advised throw off his back foot that was picked off by UAB’s Turner in the end zone.
The Vols would close out the first half 23-0, but missed a major opportunity to add more points on the board.
Shrout came out as the starter after halftime. He was able to get the Vols into UAB territory, but eventually came up short, leaving Tennessee to punt.
The same pressure that allowed Tennessee to sack Johnston in the first half came through in the second half, as Shawn Shamburger came flying in off the edge for his first QB takedown of the game. Aubrey Solomon followed right up with a sack of his own and the Blazers suddenly faced a 3rd-and-23. They couldn’t convert and Tennessee would regain possession on its own 26.
Guarantano came out as the starter on the next drive, but it was Jennings who moved the chains by recording two receptions for 41 yards. The two plays took the Vols to the UAB13 and gave Tennessee a chance to put the final nail in the UAB coffin.
It took a 3rd-and-10 to get the job done, but Guarantano found Eric Gray in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown reception. Cimaglia’s PAT put the Vols up, 30-0, with 1:08 left in the third quarter.
The Blazers continued to fight, regardless of the score. Austin Watkins made a nice grab on 3rd-and-10 to close out the third quarter, but a scary moment came when Johnston appeared to have injured his leg on a 2nd-and-11.
Dylan Hopkins came in to replace Johnston on a 3rd-and-long, but didn’t have any success. UAB had to punt, and it was likely punting its last chances of winning away, as well.
Finally, UAB found the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter. Hopkins tosses a short pass in the flats to Lucious Stanley, who did the rest. The Blazers broke up the shutout — but that’s all that they would do.
Tennessee went on to win this one by a final of 30-7, improving to 4-5 on the year.
The Vols travel to Lexington, Kentucky to take on the Kentucky Wildcats next Saturday, November 9. Kickoff is set for 7:30PM p.m. ET.