KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 15/16 Tennessee rolled up 35 points and 416 yards of total offense in the first half alone and cruised to 63-6 victory over Akron Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd of 101,915 at Neyland Stadium.
The packed house against the Zips (1-2) marked the first for the Vols (3-0) in a home game versus a non-conference foe since the Big Orange faithful filled the historic venue against Oklahoma on Sept. 12, 2015.
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was stellar in the opening 30 minutes and early in the third quarter before retiring to the home sideline. The redshirt-senior produced 251 yards passing on 13-of-17 accuracy in the first half and ended the evening 14-of-18 for 298 yards and two scores.
The Volunteer signal caller now has thrown a touchdown pass in 15 straight games, just three shy of the school record of 18 set by Heath Shuler from Oct. 17, 1992, to Jan. 1, 1994. Hooker also improved his total to 37 TD tosses as a Vol, ranking seventh all-time on Rocky Top.
Junior receiver Jalin Hyatt and running backs Jaylen Wright and Dylan Sampson had two touchdowns apiece to lead the offense, which accumulated 676 yards of total offense for the fifth-highest total in school history. It marks the third time UT has racked up 600+ yards of total offense under Josh Heupel and stands as the most points scored and largest margin of victory in a game under his leadership.
Hyatt caught four passes for career bests of 119 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone and finished with five receptions for 166 and two TDs, tallying three catches for 47 yards or more. Wright, a sophomore, carried for 96 yards and two scores on 23 attempts, while Sampson, a true freshman, tallied eight rushes for career-best totals of 57 yards and two TDs.
Defensively, the Vols blanked Akron in the first half and didn’t allow points until 7:35 remained in the third period. The Zips were held to 276 yards of total offense, including just 35 yards on the ground. The Big Orange had 11 tackles for losses, including four sacks. Freshman linebacker Elijah Herring had two of those quarterback takedowns to lead the team, while fellow linebacker Jeremy Banks was tops in total stops with five.
Following an exchange of punts early in the opening quarter, the Vols got on the scoreboard first. A 27-yard, third-down scramble by Hooker and a 19-yard pass from Hooker to redshirt-senior tight end Princeton Fant helped move Tennessee 74 yards in only seven plays. Wright capped the drive of just under two minutes with a two-yard plunge. Chase McGrath’s extra point put UT on top 7-0 with 8:39 to go.
The Big Orange forced the Zips to punt on the next series and needed just 1:49 to travel 79 yards, with a 47-yard pass from Hooker to freshman receiver Squirrel White starting the possession in explosive fashion. Four plays later, Hooker executed an option play and pitched to Sampson for a nine-yard dash into the end zone. Redshirt senior Cedric Tillman’s relentless blocking enabled the freshman to reach the goal-line just inside the right pylon. McGrath added the PAT to make it 14-0 with 5:52 to go in the opening stanza.
The Vols made it three straight drives with a touchdown, marching 80 yards in six plays over 2:04. Hyatt hauled in a career-long 57-yard reception from Hooker to deliver the decisive blow. McGrath’s kick boosted the margin to 21-0 with only 20 seconds elapsed in the second period.
After a 40-yard Akron field goal attempt sailed wide left with 9:27 to go in the second frame and ended the Zips’ first scoring threat of the evening, UT hit paydirt again at the 6:47 mark. Sampson, who also had a 27-yard burst during the drive, took the option pitch from Hooker and scampered 11 yards into the end zone to culminate an eight-play, 78-yard journey. McGrath drilled the extra point to make it 28-0 Vols.
Akron again came up empty on the next drive, moving the ball to the UT five before Vol linebacker Jeremy Banks forced a fumble by Daniel George, and defensive end LaTrell Bumphus jumped on the loose ball in the end zone for a touchback. UT promptly made the score 35-0 as Hooker connected with Hyatt for a 48-yard score on play five and McGrath tacked on the PAT with 56 seconds left before the half.
The first offensive unit got one more series with Hooker under center in the second half, and it put seven on the board for the sixth-straight series. Covering 55 yards in five plays over 1:46, thanks in large part to a 47-yard toss from Hooker to Hyatt, Wright barreled into the north checkerboard from the one-yard-line for his second tally of the night. McGrath booted the extra point to make it 42-0 with 10:15 left in the third.
The Zips finally brought their scoring drought to an end with 7:35 remaining in the third period. They marched 58 yards in seven plays, with Noah Perez sending 35-yard field goal through the uprights to make it 42-3 Tennessee.
Tennessee countered with two scores, setting off fireworks on long touchdown passes via Joe Milton III at the end of the third period and with 12:16 to go in the final stanza, respectively, to reset the scoreboard to 56-3. Milton found senior wideout Ramel Keyton streaking downfield for a 57-yard scoring strike and fired a laser to sophomore Walker Merrill for a 38-yarder. McGrath hit the first PAT before Toby Wilson added the next.
Akron added a 41-yard Perez field goal with 6:22 left to make the score 56-6. UT responded immediately, however, with Tayven Jackson under center. The freshman became the third Vol quarterback to engineer a scoring drive, calling his own number and capping a 12-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard jaunt around left end for his first career touchdown. Wilson’s PAT made the final score 63-6.
Tennessee will be back at home next Saturday and open SEC play, as it welcomes No. 18/21 Florida (2-1) to Neyland Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. clash on CBS. Tickets for the contest are already sold out.