A quick start proved to be enough on Saturday for Tennessee.
The Vols scored on the first offensive play of the game and never looked back as they rolled to a 31-0 halftime lead and a 45-14 victory over UTSA in front of a sold-out Neyland Stadium.
With the win, UT improved to 3-1 on the year.
The opening 30 minutes was all Vols.
Joe Milton III opened the game with an 81-yard touchdown run on the first offensive play from scrimmage as Tennessee went up 7-0.
The Vols outgained the Roadrunners 359-98 in the first half.
“The first half starting fast, being efficient, locking well, big runs,” Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel said. “Joe [Milton III] starts the game with a huge play off of his read key and they were efficient in the pass game too. I also said in the locker room later tonight, it is a fine line. It is again a reminder for the competitive edge that you have to have and continue to keep during the course of a ball game too.”
Milton finished the game 18-of-31 for 209 yards and two touchdowns through the air while adding 94 yards on five carries with a touchdown.
“We want him to continue to make plays,” Heupel said of Milton III. “He’s going to have to use his feet. You saw it tonight in the run game. In our drop-back pass game, he’s going to have to work the pocket, escape, make plays with his feet, stay, and make plays with his arm. That will be critical as we continue to go. We need him to take great care of the football.”
“There’s still a level of efficiency that we can get to in our passing game. That’s Joe, it’s our wideouts, it’s our tight ends. It’s all of that together so we can take another jump.”
Sophomore Dylan Sampson had a career day as he had 139 yards on 11 carries with two touchdowns – including a 41-yard score.
“Dylan has been a leader on the practice field and a leader in the locker room,” Heupel said. “Competitive and willing to do whatever to help the team. When he has the ball in his hands he’s done a good job of reading it. Delivering blocks. He made a backdoor cut tonight, his flow over the top happens. He’s really efficient in what he’s done. He’s going to continue to go up too.”
Sampson added Tennessee’s second touchdown of the night as UT went up 14-0 five minutes into the game.
Early in the second quarter, Milton III found Kaleb Webb for an 18-yard touchdown and hit Ramel Keyton for a 48-yard score.
Tennessee took a 31-0 lead into the locker room after Charles Campbell hit a 29-yard field goal in the closing minutes of the half.
UTSA was able to trim into the Tennessee lead in the third quarter as Owen McCown had two touchdown passes – one to Joshua Cephus for three yards and another to Tykee Ogle-Kellogg that covered 43 yards.
Tennessee’s defense, however, rose to the occasion and kept the Roadrunners stymied the rest of the game.
Jabari Small and Sampson each had a rushing touchdown in the fourth to account for the final score.
Small finished the game with 61 yards on nine carries.
Tennessee saw several younger players get reps in the second half as the game was out of reach.
The win provided a spark to the Vols after last week’s loss at Florida.
“You don’t want to have to learn about them that way,” Heupel said of what he wanted his team to learn from last week’s loss. “I think we learned a lot about our football team in the second half of last week’s game too. I say that to say they are resilient, tough, competitive, and willing to go out and compete.”
“They did that today too. They had a really good week of practice. They came back and you could tell it hurt and they came back and practiced well too. This group is pretty consistent in that, and I expect that again as we continue to go.”