KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee got a healthy and much-needed convincing win over Tennessee Tech on Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
The Vols also got some much-needed help from Arkansas, which defeated Florida by a 31-10 count on Saturday to keep Tennessee’s hopes of winning the SEC East Division alive.
The Vols (6-3) played like a focused team in snapping a three-game losing streak with a 55-0 win over the FCS Golden Eagles (3-6) before a homecoming crowd 0f 98,343.
It was UT’s largest margin of victory in a shutout since beating Vanderbilt 65-0 in 1994.
The win assures Tennessee it will be bowl eligible for a third straight season. The last time the Vols were riding that sort of streak was in 2004, when UT concluded a string of 16 straight bowl appearances.
Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs was 12-of-13 passing for 183 yards and three touchdowns before getting pulled at the 5:30 mark of the second quarter with the Vols leading 28-0.
Backup QB Quinten Dormady was 9-of-13 passing for 109 yards in his first extended playing time.
Sophomore tailback John Kelly, making his first start in place of departed runner Jalen Hurd and injured Alvin Kamara, had 104 yards on seven carries, including a 73-yard touchdown run.
Tennessee returns to action next Saturday against Kentucky. The game time has yet to be announced.
Six things learned
• The 5-foot-9, 212-pound Kelly lived up to his billing as an “angry runner” by breaking tackles on each carry. Kelly burst through traffic at the line of scrimmage on his 73-yard run, speeding away from the pursuit en route to the end zone.
• Dobbs showed he can throw the deep ball on target when he’s afforded protection, hitting Josh Malone with TD throws of 30 and 43 yards in the first quarter.
• The Vols’ linebacker situation is still shifting. Darrin Kirkland Jr. made his second start since returning from injury last week, but Elliott Berry replaced Colton Jumper at weakside linebacker in the starting lineup. Jumper came on to play in the middle after UT started substituting and Cortez McDowell made his first appearance since the Texas A&M game, relieving Berry and making an interception.
• Evan Berry made his second straight start at safety in place of injured Micah Abernathy, but for the second straight game, Berry was forced from the game by an injury. Berry appeared to suffer a lower right leg injury, Abernathy (hamstring) came in for a series before being replaced by true freshman Nigel Warrior.
• The secondary remains a work in progress, as Justin Martin made his second start of the season. It was the eighth different secondary combination the Vols have started this season. Freshman cornerback Marquill Osborne recorded his first career sack, and freshman safety Nigel Warrior had two fourth-down stops.
• The Vols fans are a blood-thirsty lot, as Coach Butch Jones was booed when sending the field goal unit on the field while leading 35-0 with four seconds left in the first half at the Tennessee Tech 2-yard line.
• Tennessee Tech drove to the Vols’ 28-yard line on its first possession looking to answer Tennessee’s game-opening TD drive. When the Golden Eagles failed to convert on fourth down, the Vols got the ball and scored three plays later on a 43-yard pass from Dobbs to Malone, going up 14-0 and serving notice it would be a long day for Tennessee Tech.
• Tennessee played with great enthusiasm and for the first time this season did not play down to the level of the opposition.
• Can Tennessee look as efficient and dominant against any of its remaining opponents: vs. Kentucky next Saturday, vs. Missouri on Nov. 19 and at Vanderbilt on Nov. 26.
• Kelly’s 73-yard run was the longest touchdown run by Tennessee since LaMarcus Coker had an 87-yarder against Vanderbilt on Nov. 18, 2006.
What it means
• Tennessee scored the sort of lopsided win it needed and was expected to record.