Vols stall Roadrunners

Published 5:13 pm Monday, September 25, 2023

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No. 20 Tennessee rolled up 512 total yards, out-gaining UTSA 359-98 in the first half, to race past the Roadrunners, 45-14, on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 101,915 at Neyland Stadium.

The Vols (3-1, 0-1 SEC), who have now sold out eight consecutive home games, hit pay-dirt on four of their first five possessions during the first 30 minutes to take a 31-0 lead at intermission over UTSA (1-3, 0-0 AAC). As the second half wore on, UT’s reserves saw significant playing time and closed out the win.

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Quarterback Joe Milton III enjoyed a very productive first half, throwing for 156 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-21 accuracy and rushing five times for 89 yards and another score. He wound up 18-of-31 passing for 209 yards on the day, and his 81-yard, tone-setting dash to the end zone on the first play from scrimmage stands as the longest-ever by a UT signal caller and tied for the 10th-best all-time by any Volunteer.

Running back Dylan Sampson paced Tennessee’s rushing attack, racking up a career-high 139 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns on 11 carries. He now has six scores as a sophomore, including five on the ground, and helped the Vols rush for 303 yards on the day.

Tennessee’s defense allowed only four first downs to the Roadrunners in the opening half and only one trip into Vol territory. Linebacker Aaron Beasley led all Vols for the game with nine tackles. Linebacker Elijah Herring recorded a career-high eight stops, a tackle for a loss and a hurry, while defensive back Tamarion McDonald was in on seven tackles and finished with two tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. Cornerback Warren Burrell added a pick, and defensive end Tyler Baron had three hurries and a sack to aid the cause.

It didn’t take Tennessee long to find the end zone. On the first play from scrimmage, Milton III faked a handoff to running back Jaylen Wright, kept it around left end and outraced the Roadrunner defense down the sideline for an 81-yard highlight-reel touchdown. Charles Campbell’s extra point made it 7-0 with only 20 seconds elapsed in the contest.

Tennessee added seven more points at the 10:03 mark of the first period to build a 14-0 lead after the opening 15 minutes. Sampson burst through the middle of the line for a 10-yard trip into the north checkerboard.

After shutting down a fake punt attempt by UTSA with 14:49 left in the second frame, UT set up shop at its own 42 and mounted another quick scoring strike. A 40-yard scamper by running back Jabari Small, followed by an 18-yard TD dart from Milton III to wide receiver Kaleb Webb helped push the advantage to 21-0 with 14:23 left. The point-producing grab was the first of Webb’s career.

Tennessee hit the scoreboard two more times in the second quarter to carry a 31-0 lead into the locker room.  A 48-yard touchdown pass from Milton III to wide receiver Ramel Keyton and a 29-yard field goal by Campbell accounted for those additional points.

UTSA bounced back with scores on its first two drives of the second half, getting touchdown passes of three and 43 yards from quarterback Owen McCown to receivers Joshua Cephus and Tykee Ogle-Kellogg, respectively, to cut the deficit to 31-14.

Tennessee countered twice in the final frame to finish the scoring, getting a one-yard plunge from Small with 12:42 left and a nifty 41-yard dash from Sampson at the 10:17 mark.

Tennessee’s three-game homestand continues at Neyland Stadium Saturday night, as the Vols welcome South Carolina to Knoxville at 7:30 p.m.