Year two’s season opener for Josh Heupel at Tennessee went quite a bit smoother than year one’s did. Those shaky moments in the second quarter against Bowling Green? They were non-existent tonight against Ball State.
Tennessee was off and running early, thanks to a first-play pick from new starter Tamarian McDonald. Hendon Hooker wasted no time validating the Jalin Hyatt hype, finding him to go up 7-0 early.
The Tennessee defense made their presence felt from there, coming up with a couple of fourth down stops. Ball State with nothing to lose kept going for it on fourth, but the Volunteers stood tall in those spots.
Hooker made them pay with four first half touchdowns — two on the ground and two through the air. Jabari Small added another, while Chase McGrath punched through a field goal.
It was an impressive debut for Bru McCoy, who certainly looked the part tonight. He started the game for the Volunteers, just six days after being cleared to play by the NCAA. The 6-3, 220 pounder was physical, making things happen on the perimeter. He finished with three catches for 42 yards, hitting the bench at halftime.
The offensive line was a bit of a concern in the first half, struggling to generate a consistent push in the run game. Jabari Small still was able to find 63 first half yards, but their lack of a push cost Tennessee in some key downs early on.
Hooker started up and down, then settled in to what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. He was high on a few throws, and didn’t seem totally comfortable early on with his new receivers, which is understandable. However, he settled in quick enough, powering Tennessee to 38 first half points.
Hooker finished 18-25 for 222 yards and two touchdowns. He ran for 12 yards and two more scores.
Joe Milton took over early in the third quarter, along with most of the rest of the second team. This one was over, now it was just about getting reps in for everyone.
Freshman running back Dylan Sampson continued to impress, coming off of his buzzworthy camp. He scored in the third quarter, capping off a drive which saw him move the chains in both the running game and receiving game. Squirrel White and Jimmy Holiday both got plenty of run with Milton and the second team squad.
Milton found Jimmy Holiday for a huge 53 yard touchdown strike on a post, capping this one off in style.
Tayven Jackson came on to mop things up, but this one was done.
Overall, not much to complain about here. The defense had their shaky spots, and you’d definitely like to see them generate more pressure going forward. The offensive line also had its shaky spots, failing to find a push in the first half with any consistency.
Regardless — we’re nitpicking — Tennessee went on to win, 59-10.
The Volunteers will head north to Pittsburgh next Saturday for a huge non-conference game — one that could determine the difference between eight and nine wins on the year.