(Courtesy / UT Athletics)



GeneralApril 13, 2024

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The fourth spring of the Josh Heupel era of Tennessee football culminated with Orange topping White, 21-14, in the annual Orange & White Game on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium.

Capacity was limited to 10,000 fans as the historic venue continues to undergo renovations this offseason. Offense, wearing white uniforms, alternated possessions for orange and white to determine the final score.

Heupel joined men’s basketball head coach Rick Barnes and the 2023-24 SEC champion Vols for Vol Walk prior to the game. Multiple VFLs were on hand for a Homecoming, including Super Bowl champion Trey Smith and current NFL teammates Joshua Dobbs and Jauan Jennings.

“It was a great day just getting our players’ families back here into town, having an opportunity to see them before the game and then obviously afterwards,” Heupel said. “I enjoyed Vol Walk—the opportunity to honor our basketball program and everything that those guys accomplished this past regular season. Great group of guys, too. You look at Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James, what they’ve meant to this program and how selfless those guys were inside of the basketball program. It was awesome to be a part of honoring them today, too.”

Quarterback Nico Iamaleava saw limited action and finished 7-of-9 for 96 yards and one touchdown. Backup quarterback Gaston Moore was 12-of-18 for 184 yards and two touchdowns, while true freshman Jake Merklinger completed 5-of-7 passes for 105 yards and one score.

The defense dominated the first quarter before Dayton Sneed put the White team on the board, hauling in a 13-yard pass from Moore to finish off a nine-play, 60-yard drive. Merklinger, leading the third team offense, tied it for Orange on a 26-yard rushing score with 5:07 to go in the second quarter.

A 28-point second quarter continued when Iamaleava found Nimrod down the far sideline for a 27-yard touchdown pass. Moore responded for the second team offense with one of the big plays of the day as time expired in the first half. The fifth-year senior fired a beautiful pass to true freshman Mike Matthews, who finished off a 63-yard strike to make it a 14 all tie at the half.

Tulane transfer Chris Brazzell II got in on the big-play action when he streaked down the near sideline for a 71-yard bomb from Merklinger with 7:43 left in the third quarter. Brazzell’s touchdown was the final scoring margin for Orange.

“This is the deepest wide receiver pool that we’ve had,” Heupel said. “Now there’s a lot of young guys within our system that still have a lot of growth that we’ve got to make before we get to the opener but really before we get to training camp too. That’s freshmen transfers, young guys inside of our system, but I love the competitiveness of that group. They’ve made plays. Fundamentally they’re getting so much better with releases, the ball not in their hands, how they’re blocking, understanding how to stand and work with second and third level defenders.”

True freshman Edwin Spillman, who enrolled in March, led all defenders with six tackles and one sack. Defensive back Christian Harrison has six tackles and one sack. True freshman safety Boo Carter added three tackles and one tackle for loss. Linebackers Jeremiah Telander notched two sacks, and Caleb Herring, Nathan Robinson and Bryson Eason each collected one sack.

The Vols held out multiple starters out of precaution and allowed all three units to see significant action.

At halftime, Heupel presented awards for the 2023 season to members of the squad in attendance on Saturday. Recipients included: Jacob Warren (Mickey O’Brien Award), Aaron Beasley (Bill Majors Award), Hunter Salmon (Academic Excellence Award), Jaylen McCollough (John Stucky Award) and Ollie Lane (Inky Johnson Spirit of Courage Award).


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