Tennessee is set to kickoff their 2022 season with a non-conference matchup against the Ball State Cardinals from the MAC. Mike Neu’s squad disappointed in 2021, putting up a 6-7 mark after returning several starters from the previous season. Now a handful of that core is gone, and Neu is tasked with replacing plenty of production.
Quarterback Drew Plitt and top receiver Justin Hall are gone, leaving two massive spots to fill in the offense. With that, here are the new faces that you should know heading into Thursday’s game.
QB John Paddock
Paddock, a redshirt junior who has yet to play any significant snaps in his college career, gets the nod to replace Plitt under center. Paddock attempted just 26 passes last season, strictly limited to mop up duty only. Against Wyoming, Paddock took a sack and tossed an interception.
Paddock is a guy that has been in the system for three seasons now, so he’s going to have a good grasp on the offense. We’ll see how he performs once the lights come on, but the good news for him is that he’ll have a couple of weapons to work with.
WRs Jayshon Jackson and Yo’Heinz Tyler
Despite losing Justin Hall, receiver still might be a strength for Ball State in 2022. Jackson, who transferred in from Cincinnati, had an 829 yard season for the Cardinals in 2021. The speedster will be a top option for Paddock, now with Hall out of the picture.
Tyler is a bigger bodied receiver who is entering his fifth year in the program. The 6-3 receiver has 14 touchdown receptions over the last two years, and returns to his role this fall. Both guys are experienced within the system, and should help the transition to Paddock be a little smoother.
RB Carson Steele
Steele made big splashes as a freshman, eventually working into the lead role in the Ball State backfield. A 6-1, 215 pounder, Steele is a true workhorse-style runner. Down the stretch, he went over 100 yards three times while handling 20+ carries in four of the final five games.
Ball State will struggle to move Tennessee’s defensive front, but odds are good that they’ll at least try to get something established with Steele early on. Down the road, Steele might just end up being the bread and butter of the Cardinals’ attack, but it’s not likely to happen here.
LBs Brandon Martin and Clayton Coll
Ball State gets Co-MAC-Defensive Player of the year Brandon Martin back for 2022, forming a stout inside linebacker pairing with Clayton Coll. Martin missed nine games last season due to injury, after averaging 11 tackles per game back in 2020.
Standing in his place last season was Coll, who put up 104 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions in 2021. Expect the two to be on the field together on Thursday night, giving Ball State a clear strength on defense.
CB Amechi Uzodinma
Ball State is replacing both safeties from last year’s team, but they return a very good veteran cornerback in Uzodinma. He led the MAC in interceptions way back in 2019, ranking inside of the top ten nationally. Uzodinma has appeared in 45 career games now, and is entering his fifth season with the program.
He draws a tough matchup on Thursday night, tasked with slowing down Tennessee receiver Cedric Tillman, who is coming off of a 1,000+ yard season in 2021. It’s a big spot for Uzodinma, who has a chance to put out some quality film for scouts against a big time opponent.
Kickoff between Ball State and Tennessee is set for 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. The Volunteers are holding firm as a 35 point favorite, per DraftKings Sportsbook.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See DraftKings.com/sportsbook for details.