Vols open season with impressive win over Utah State
KNOXVILLE- With a team chocked full of new players, questions abounded for the Tennessee Volunteers as they opened the 2014 season. At least for one night, many of those questions were answered.
The Vols rolled up 383 yards of total offense and the Tennessee defense harassed Utah State star quarterback Chuckie Keeton all night as the Vol faithful were treated to a 38-7 rout of the Aggies.
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said he was pleased with the way his young team played against Utah State Sunday night. “Excited for our players. Forty-five percent played their first game tonight. I knew we were ready to go by our overall demeanor yesterday in our walk-throughs at the hotel. The older players did a great job of mentoring the younger guys.”
Justin Worley earned the starting nod for the season opener against the Aggies and it was easy to see why. He was 27-of-38 for 273 yards and three touchdowns as he spread his passes to multiple receivers. At one point in the game, the South Carolina native completed 13 passes in a row, the fourth longest street in school history.
“Justin played winning football at the quarterback position,” Jones said of his senior signal-caller’s performance. “He was calm and collected and he acted like he had been there before. Justin was a calming influence on the sidelines.”
The Vols jumped up early by scoring 14 points in only 14 seconds. Worley found Josh Smith for a 38-yard reception that put Tennessee in good field position at the Aggies’ eight yard line. Pig Howard capped the 70-yard drive on the next play with the touchdown. Aaron Medley was good on the point after.
Kennedy Williams picked up the ensuing kickoff and returned it 12 yards but AJ Johnson came in to poke the ball lose and true freshman Todd Kelly Jr. pounced on it at the 12. Worley wasted little time going to the end zone as he connected with Brendan Downs on the first play and Medley was true again to give UT a 14-0 lead.
That would be about it the rest of the half until Tennessee scored with one minute remaining. Medley, who missed on a 42-yard attempt, split the uprights for a 36-yard score to send the Vols to the break leading 17-0.
Tennessee’s defense kept Keeton in check in the first quarter. Keeton led Utah State in rushing with only 16 yards on four attempts and he threw for 63 yards despite attempting 18 passes and completing 10. Both teams struggled in third down conversions as Utah State was 1-of-7 and Tennessee was only 2-of-9.
The Aggies looked to finally get something going early in the second half. They marched into Tennessee territory for the first time on the night and looked to be ready to score. Jake Thompson attempted a 48-yard field goal but it sailed left of the intended target.
The Volunteers took advantage of their first possession of the second half as they scored on a drive which gobbled up six minutes of time. Worley was a perfect 7-of-7 on the drive and highlighted the athleticism of Von Pearson, Tennessee’s junior college transfer wide receiver who was ranked second in the nation at that position by ESPN. Pearson made a great move to fake out the Utah State defense and walked into the end zone for a 14-yard score to make it 24-0 after the extra point.
Volunteer fans caught of glimpse of things to come on the first play of the fourth quarter. Jalen Hurd, one of multiple highly-rated recruits made an athletic move to score from 15 yards away on a pass from Worley. Tennessee was rolling 31-0 after the play from one of the Vols “Legacy” players.
The Aggies finally got something going on the next drive as they took only 30 seconds to find pay dirt. Keeton hooked up with Hunter Sharp for a 37-yard strike to get Utah State on the board at 31-7.
A big defensive play by Tennessee set up the Vols’ next score. AJ Johnson picked off a pass at the 34 and returned it all the way down to the Aggies’ 11 yard line. Lane was in the promised land two plays later as UT went up 38-7. That was the way the game ended as Tennessee started the second year of the Butch Jones era on a positive note.
“The most growth and development of a football game usually happens from week one to week two. We have to take monumental steps to move forward. We had some mistakes we have to clean up but it’s always great to start 1-0 against a very good football team,” Jones said.
The Vols host Arkansas State next Saturday at noon.
By Marlin Curnutt