Tennessee took care of business on Saturday like they were expected to.
The Volunteers steamrolled past Tennessee Tech in a 56-0 decision that featured four turnovers and touchdowns by eight difference Vols.
“I thought the team did a lot of the things we were asking them from the previous week, but still played with great effort and energy,” Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel said. “In particular, the defense and special teams. I thought we played cleaner, way fewer penalties. I thought we handled that the right way.”
Tennessee finishes the three-game homestand to kick off 2021 with a 2-1 record with the win – with the lone loss coming to Pitt last week.
Saturday’s win for the Vols came less than a week after Heupel said his squad wasn’t prepared for a determined Pitt squad a week ago.
“Our mental approach,” Heupel said when asked what he meant about his team not being ready for Pitt. “Keeping what’s important from our players’ perspective. That’s as detailed as I am going to get right now.”
Tennessee made sure the Golden Eagles were never a threat inside Neyland Stadium.
Hendon Hooker hit JaVonta Payton for a 29-yard touchdown pass, and Jaylen Wright scored from a yard out as Tennessee took a 14-0 lead into the second quarter.
Velus Jones Jr. caught a Hooker pass and raced 45 yards for a touchdown early in the second stanza. The teams traded possessions until the final minute when Hooker hit Jacob Warren for a short touchdown as the Vols went to the half with a 28-0 lead.
With some light rain falling as the teams came out of the locker room, it didn’t hamper the Vols.
Hooker opened the third-quarter scoring with a one-yard touchdown with 8:37 showing on the clock. The Tennessee defensive attack got in on the scoring act as Solon Page III intercepted a Tech pass and ran it 31 yards for the touchdown.
Tiyon Evans added a late score in the third quarter from a yard out as Tennessee held a 49-0 advantage after three complete quarters.
Tennessee capped off the scoring midway through the fourth with a short Harrison Bailey run.
After a week of quarterback controversy, Hooker went 17-of-25 for 199 yards and three touchdowns while also adding nine carries for 64 yards and a score.
Hooker got the starting nod after Joe Milton III was unable to play due to an injury suffered in last week’s Pitt game.
“Some real positives,” Heupel said of Hooker’s performance. “Decisive, accurate at times, did a good job using his feet at times, but the turnovers can’t happen. There were some plays in the pass game from in the pocket with wide receivers behind the secondary and not connecting on those. You have to, at some point, make those plays.”
Wright had 43 yards on nine runs, while Evans finished with 15 carries for 41 yards.
Jones Jr. had three catches for 65 yards, while Payton and Walker Merrill had 46 and 40 receiving yards, respectively.
“Just having a plan that if the game unfolds in a way where we get the opportunity, want to reward the guys and get some young players some meaningful snaps and reward everyone on our roster,” Heupel said. “I thought in all three phases, we had an opportunity to let some young guys get some opportunities out there, which I think is important.”
The Vols hit the road for the first time on Saturday with a road trip to Florida for the SEC opener.
However, that doesn’t win Tennessee isn’t enjoying the win.
“I think it is really important for our players to enjoy every win,” Heupel said. “Coaches too. It is a hard game to play by competitiveness, and if you play it 10 times, it is going to unfold differently every time so absolutely enjoy the win. For me, I am going to transition to the following week pretty quick, and our players need to do that too. There are still controllables out there that we need to be better at as a football program.”
Kickoff in Gainesville is at 7p and the game will be televised on ESPN.