Tennessee hit the gas on the first play from scrimmage and never looked back.
The Vols jumped out early and never looked back en route to a 59-10 season-opening victory over Ball State on Thursday night inside Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee’s Tamarion McDonald intercepted a Ball State pass on the opening offensive play, and Tennessee struck on their first offensive play as Hendon Hooker hit Jalin Hyatt for a 23-yard touchdown.
From there, it was all Tennessee as the Vols took a 17-0 lead after the first quarter and pushed the lead to 38-0 at the break.
“I was really happy with a lot of things: offense, defense, special teams, effort, energy, and competing,” Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel said. “Obviously, we had a huge turnover right off the jump. The defensive line was disruptive on the reverse pass. The team comes up with a big play and we were able to put in the end zone on the next play with Jaylin. I thought there was a lot to be excited about in all three phases of the game and early in the game.”
Hooker finished 18-of-25 for 221 yards and two touchdowns, while also adding two scores on the ground on five carries.
“I thought he was very efficient, in command and control,” Heupel said of Hooker. “Our tempo, run game, decisions, checks, pass game, the same thing. Structurally some things we game planned for and some things we hadn’t. The adjustments on the sideline he handled in a really good way. I thought he was in great command of the football game.”
Joe Milton III also added a passing touchdown as he went 8-of-9 for 113 yards.
Wright finished the night with 88 yards on 13 carries with a score, while Jabari Small and Dylan Sampson each added a rushing touchdown.
Cedric Tilman had six catches for 68 yards to lead the Vol receiving group. Jimmy Holiday, Walker Merrill, and Hyatt each had touchdown catches.
“We know more about our football team than we did a year ago,” Heupel said. “We’ve been through an entire season, some of the guys are in year two. We’ve seen them compete in practice and on the field more so there are more knowns in that way. Roles are going to change throughout the course of the season. This is a physical game, injuries happen, and you’ve got to be ready to take advantage of your opportunity no matter where you are.”
“Whether you’re the one, two, three, four, five, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to keep pushing and competing. That was the message to our team during the course of training camp, it was the message going into this week, and it will be the message when we get back in the building on Saturday with our players.”
Tennessee now turns its attention to the first road game of the 2022 season as the Vols will travel to Pittsburgh for the second installment of the Johnny Majors Classic.
With the opening game on a Thursday night, the Vols will have an extra couple of days before the next game.
“The players will be in the building tomorrow; we will make sure medically we come out the right way,” Heupel said. “They have class tomorrow. A majority of coaches will have recruiting, including myself. On Saturday morning, we will be back in the building to watch the game together for the first time. Our players will be in Saturday, and we will be able to tie a ribbon on this one and move on to the next one.”