Vols recover from slow start to beat Austin Peay

Published 4:14 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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After trailing early, No. 9 Tennessee scored 20 unanswered points en route to a 30-13 victory over a scrappy Austin Peay team in front of a sold-out crowd of 101,915 on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

The contest, which featured UT’s seventh straight packed house at Neyland, initially was delayed by lightning.

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Linebacker Aaron Beasley was all over the field in leading the UT defense, tallying nine tackles, including eight solo stops, two sacks and a career-high five TFLs, which were the most by a Vol in a single game since 2004. Kamal Hadden and Warren Burrell recorded takeaways with an interception and fumble recovery, respectively. Hadden also had three pass break-ups, as the Vols improved to 2-0 and the Governors fell to 0-2.

Quarterback Joe Milton III shook off a 1-for-7 first quarter through the air, completing 11 straight passes in the second frame to help his team grab its first lead. He finished the night 21-of-33 for 228 yards passing with two touchdowns and also added a rushing score. Wide receiver Ramel Keyton (5 yards) and tight end McCallan Castles (43 yards) were Milton’s targets on the TD tosses.

Running backs Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small paced the rushing attack, piling up 118 and 95 yards, respectively, as Tennessee outgained APSU, 228-79, on the ground.

After surrendering a 45-yard Maddux Trujillo field goal that gave the Governors a 3-0 lead after the game’s opening drive, Tennessee evened the score with 5:51 to go in the first period. Burrell recovered a muffed punt by Austin Peay’s Kam Thomas at the Governor 13, and Charles Campbell came on four plays later to kick a 28-yard field goal.

Trujillo moved APSU back in front with 8:15 remaining in the second stanza, drilling a 34-yard field goal to make it 6-3. The Vols responded on their next possession, with Campbell splitting the uprights from 37 yards out to even the score at 6-6 with 4:55 left before the half.

Tennessee scored once more in the first half, grabbing its first lead with 15 seconds left before intermission. Milton called his own number, bursting up the middle for six yards and the game’s first touchdown. Campbell added the PAT to make the score 13-6.

The Vols took the opening kickoff in the second half and promptly registered their third unanswered score. Milton capped the drive with a five-yard strike across the middle to Keyton, and Campbell’s extra point made it 20-6 Big Orange with 13:30 left in the third.

Tennessee would tack on a 22-yard Campbell field goal in the third quarter to continue its scoring run before Austin Peay countered with a 52-yard strike from Mike DiLiello to Trey Goodman at the 9:01 mark of the fourth period to cut the gap to 23-13.

The Vols closed the evening’s scoring with a 43-yard connection from Milton to Castles with 8:03 left in the contest.

Tennessee travels to Gainesville next weekend to face the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN.