KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – After a grueling double-overtime victory over Georgia Tech on Monday night, there was every reason to think Tennessee might sleepwalk through its home opener.
After all, the Vols were facing a rather inept FCS team on a short week, and much of the pregame talk still centered on the game from earlier in the week.
But true freshman Ty Chandler had other ideas. He bolted 91 yards with the opening kickoff to spark Tennessee to a 42-7 victory over Indiana State on Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
“It was awesome to see the young guy step up and replace (the injured) Evan Berry,” quarterback Quinten Dormady said.
It was one of the few thrilling plays for the Vols.
They didn’t run the ball particularly well, with 160 yards on 37 carries. The line play on offense and defense wasn’t crisp. The passing game was good in the first half, but not so much in the second half. And quarterbacks too often overthrew receivers.
This wasn’t exactly what coach Butch Jones ordered before his Vols take to the road for their SEC opener at Florida – weather permitting. But Jones said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“We displayed mental toughness,” Jones said.
A bright spot was the defense. Mangled for 535 rushing yards and 655 total yards by Georgia Tech, Tennessee held the Sycamores to 215 yards of offense and 0-of-11 on third downs. Georgia Tech was 13-of-18 on third down.
“We wanted to make it a point of emphasis to get off the field,” defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said. “To be a great defense, we have to get off the field on third down.”
To underscore how poor Tennessee’s scheme was against Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets rushed 49 times for 210 yards against FCS progra, Jacksonville State on Saturday. Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who had 44 carries for 249 yards and five touchdowns against Tennessee, had just 25 yards and one touchdown on 13 rushing attempts in the 37-10 win over Jacksonville State and fullback KiVonte Benson (26 for 124 against Tennessee) was limited to 26 yards on 11 carries.
To Tennessee’s credit, it went from defending a triple option to facing a spread team that ran shift after shift and jet sweep after jet sweep.
“Two types of exotic offenses, completely different,” Jones said.
Said Vickers, “I think we did a good job preparing for it.”
Dormady led Tennessee by going 13-of-18 for 194 yards and two touchdowns. But after going 10-of-12 for 123 yards in the first half, he wasn’t as sharp in the second half, throwing an ill-advised interception in the end zone and fumbling after a sack.
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