Hooker in on 4 TDs, leads Tennessee to easy win, 56-0

Sep 18, 2021, 12:49 AM | Updated: 1:57 pm
Tennessee quarterback Harrison Bailey (15) hands the ball off to running back Len'Neth Whitehead (2...

Tennessee quarterback Harrison Bailey (15) hands the ball off to running back Len'Neth Whitehead (27) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee Tech, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 56-0. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

(AP Photo/Wade Payne)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee played Saturday’s game with one eye on Tennessee Tech and the other on Florida.

Hendon Hooker threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another, and the Volunteer defense came up with four interceptions in a 56-0 rout of the Golden Eagles (0-3).

The victory sets up Tennessee (2-1) for the start of its Southeastern Conference season next Saturday in The Swamp.

“The level of competition steps up next week,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “Our players are excited about that. I’ll transition to the following week pretty quick. I hope our players can do that.”

Hooker made his first start at quarterback for Tennessee in place of Joe Milton, who started the Vols’ first two games. He was sidelined with a lower leg injury in the second quarter of last week’s loss to Pittsburgh. Heupel said Milton was able to practice “mid-week” this week, and should be ready for next week.

“It was a pretty good showing,” said Hooker, a grad transfer from Virginia Tech. “I have to clean up some things in my intermediate game.”

“(Hooker) was decisive and accurate at times,” said Tennessee coach Josh Heupel. “The turnover (a fumble) can’t happen.”

Tennessee Tech went through three quarterbacks. The Golden Eagles generated just 179 yards of offense.

“I am very proud of our Golden Eagle team,” said Tennessee Tech coach Dewayne Alexander. “They played hard. The biggest challenge I gave our team was to play with Golden Eagle pride and play hard all four quarters, stay competitive and compete every single play. I thought our guys did that.

“You can’t turn the ball over the way we did. It’s something we have done three games in a row, turned the football over in our territory. Giving any team a short field is going to be tough,” Alexander said.

Tennessee’s high-octane offense ran just 79 plays, a far cry from the 94 it ran against Bowling Green in the opener.

“Our pace isn’t anywhere near where it’s capable of being,” Heupel said. “We can be cleaner in the run game (202 yards). We’re not maximizing things at the running back position.

Hooker, Tiyon Evans, Jaylen Wright and backup quarterback Harrison Bailey all ran for Tennessee touchdowns. Velus Jones, Javonta Payton and Jacob Warren caught TD passes. Solon Page ran back an interception 31 yards for a score.

THE TAKEAWAY

Tennessee: What better way to get ready for the grind of the Southeastern Conference schedule than with a blowout victory? Tennessee got a lot of players in the game and some crucial ones found some much-needed confidence.

COOKIE PICK

Alontae Taylor made a pre-game promise — now it’s time for the company he represents to pay up.

The Tennessee cornerback said on social media that if he got an interception against Tennessee Tech, everybody would get two free cookies at Moonshine Mountain Cookies at either of the company’s two Knoxville locations.

PERSONNEL PERSPECTIVE

Quarterback Joe Milton, who came out of preseason camp as Tennessee’s starter, didn’t play Saturday. He sustained a lower leg injury in the second quarter of last week’s loss to Pittsburgh. He didn’t return against Pitt and he didn’t play against Tennessee Tech. He was not dressed for the game,

Likewise, Jabari Small was hurt against Pitt. Tijon Evans was also injured and didn’t suit up, leaving Jaylen Wright to carry most of the load. Evans turned to action against the Golden Eagles but Small did not.

Tennessee Tech quarterback Willie Miller left the game after a hard hit on a first-down run midway through the second quarter. Davis Shanley stepped in for him.

FAST STARTS

In three games this season, the Vols have outscored their opponents 38-0 in the first quarter.

They put up a pair of touchdowns against the Golden Eagles.

VICTORY WATCH

Saturday’s win over Tennessee Tech gave Tennessee 851 in its 125 years of football. The Vols rank 10th among FBS schools. Michigan (966) is the leader followed by Ohio State (932), Alabama (931), Texas (924), Notre Dame (920), Oklahoma (919), Nebraska (907), Penn State (904) and USC (853).

Georgia (841) and LSU (818) are immediately behind Tennessee.

UP NEXT

Tennessee Tech: Opens Ohio Valley Conference play hosting Eastern Illinois on Saturday.

Tennessee: The Vols will begin their journey in the SEC next Saturday when they travel to The Swamp to play Florida.

___

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Hooker in on 4 TDs, leads Tennessee to easy win, 56-0