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Five key takeaways from Tennessee’s win over Virginia

What we learned.

Syndication: The Tennessean Caitie McMekin / News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Good teams win, great teams cover. Despite a slow start and sloppy first half, the Tennessee Volunteers were able to cruise to a 36-point victory (FWIW I was pretty damn close with my prediction) over the Virginia Cavaliers. After a stellar opening drive to start the season, Tennessee’s stalled for about a quarter and a half, not scoring again until midway through the second quarter and then again right before half. But the Vols potent offense came alive in the second half and they ultimately ended up winning handily, 49-13.

Here are five key takeaways No. 12 Tennessee’s win against Virginia in the 2023 season opener.

Tennessee’s new-look defense was outstanding.

The Vols held Virginia to just 202 total yards this afternoon on a stingy 3.2 yards per play. In addition to great games from Tyler Baron and James Pearce Jr. (two sacks a piece) Tennessee kept Virginia off the field, allowing just five first downs on 18(!?) possible third down opportunities and one fourth down opportunity. If the defense can maintain this level of play, the SEC should be on alert.

Dylan Sampson, take a bow.

Sampson entered his sophomore season with just 6 total touchdowns, almost all of them coming in garbage time last year. Today he had four (three rushing and one receiving) and proved to be a major focal point for Tennessee’s offense. In a game where they struggled to find a consistent rhythm in the first half, Sampson was a major bright spot.

Jaylen Wright is the lead back.

In my prediction I was hoping Wright could get off to a solid start, average 5-6 yards per carry, and prove he could be the guy moving forward. He did that an then some this afternoon. Wright ran the ball hard, and efficiently. Totaling 115 yards on just 12 carries, and he would’ve had a walk in touchdown on the first drive if not for the turf monster on that horrific field at Nissan.

Tennessee misses Cedric Tillman and Jaylin Hyatt.

This isn’t necessarily a knock on Tennessee’s current receiving corps, although that drop from Keyton was bad (bad, bad as my colleague Terry would say), but it is clear that this Tennessee offense isn’t looking to operate through it’s receivers the same way it did last year. At least not right now. Lot of dump offs and check downs, not really looking to stretch the field. Moving forward Keyton, McCoy, and White will need to step up if they want to remain a high potent offense in conference play.

Joe Milton can still sling the pill.

Maybe not the most insightful thing you’ll read today, but I came into today a bigger skeptic of Joe Milton than most. He’s proved to be inconsistent in the past, and the last time he was given the keys to the program it didn’t turn out so well for him. He, for the most part, looked very solid today. Made the right right reads, hit his check downs, deep ball accuracy was there. He had some errand throws in the first half, but all things considered, I liked what I saw from the man with a rocket attached to his shoulder.