Knoxville, Tn –The University of Tennessee football team won its 20th home opener in a row in front of a sell-out crowd of 102,455, defeating the Utah State Aggies, 38-7, on Sunday night at Neyland Stadium.
In the 2014 opener, the Vols played a record 20 true freshmen and 10 newcomers, which surpassed the 2011-12 record number of 12 true freshmen seeing action.
Senior Justin Worley had a complete night under center, going 27-for-38 for 273 yards, marking career highs for completions and attempts. His 13 straight completions were good the fourth best in school history. Worley’s three touchdown passes also tied his career high.
Worley connected with 11 different receivers. That number is the most since the game against Akron on Sept. 22nd, 2012. Leading the group was Alton Howard with six catches for 37 yards and one touchdown. Marquez North followed behind with four catches for 38 yards. Josh Smith led in yardage with 48 yards on three catches. Senior Marlin Lane was the Vols’ top rusher with 41 yards and a touchdown. Also scoring TDs for the Vols were Von Pearson, Jalen Hurd and Brendan Downs.
Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Pig Howard (2) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against Utah State Aggies linebacker Nick Vigil (41) (not pictured) during the first half at Neyland Stadium. (Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports)
A major impact on the game came from the Orange Swarm, as the Vol defense held the Aggies to 244 total yards and allowed just one score.
Sophomore Jalen Reeves-Maybin earned a career-high 10 tackles with one tackle for a loss (-2.0). Behind him was senior All-American A.J. Johnson, who had nine tackles and a forced fumble. Johnson also recorded the first interception of his career. Brian Randolph came up with five tackles. Cameron Sutton’s night included four tackles, including one for a loss and an interception.
Prior to tonight’s win, Utah State had forced at least one turnover in each of its last 23 games. The Vols held onto the ball and instead forced three turnovers.
To start the game and in their second possession of the contest, the Vols marched their way down the field for a 70-yard drive for a touchdown. Freshmen Ethan Wolf and Jalen Hurd recorded key plays on the drive. A 38-yard pass to Josh Smith ignited the offense and Pig Howard finished the drive with an eight-yard touchdown. Howard’s rushing touchdown was the first of his career. Freshman Aaron Medley kicked his first extra point as a Vol.
Immediately following, the Orange Swarm came out in full force as Johnson forced a Utah State fumble on a kickoff return. Todd Kelly Jr. recovered the fumble for his first collegiate play. Back on offense, Worley threw a 12-yard pass to Brendan Downs to give Tennessee the 14-0 lead.
The defense came in huge the first half limiting the Aggie offense to just 97 yards with their longest attempt being just 13 yards. Entering the second quarter, the Tennessee defense forced a Utah State turnover on downs. Despite little scoring in the second quarter, with less than three minutes to play, Cameron Sutton recorded his third career interception and first against Keeton. A 12-yard connection to Howard led to a 36-yard field goal by Medley.
At the half, Reeves-Maybin led the defense with nine tackles, five of those unassisted. Johnson followed behind with six tackles, four unassisted. Brian Randolph and Derek Barnett had three apiece. Offensively, Worley was 14-for-23 for 147 yards. The Vols played nine different receivers and were led by Jalen Hurd. The defensive effort prevented the Aggies from passing midfield in 30 minutes of play.
Entering the second half, Utah State had a handful of plays moving past midfield but were once again stopped by the Vol defense to force a field goal attempt, which was missed by the Aggies’ Jake Thompson.
In the first drive of the second half, the Vols opened up the lead to 25-0. Worley connected with Howard for 14 yards followed by throws to Wolf and Smith for 17 yards combined. Worley connected with Marquez North three times for a total of 19 yards. Lane’s rush for six yards moved the Vols into the red zone. Von Pearson connected on a pass from Worley for 14 yards and a touchdown.
After yet another strong defensive effort, the Vols were back on offense. Worley had one of his longest passes of the night to Jason Croom for 27 yards. Passes to Smith and Malone took the Vols into the fourth quarter.
Still in possession of the ball, the Vols started the fourth quarter with Hurd earning his first career touchdown after a 15-yard pass from Worley. The next Utah State possession came just 15 seconds into the fourth quarter, and the Aggies drove the ball 73 yards for their first score of the night. Keeton completed a 37-yard pass to Hunter Sharp.
With the momentum still in Tennessee’s favor, Johnson intercepted a pass by Keeton in the red zone for his first career interception. Following the interception, Lane earned his ninth career rushing touchdown after a seven-yard carry.
Ending the fourth quarter, Nathan Peterman took over the quarterback job. The Orange Swarm continued to defend and did not allow the Aggies to score in the final quarter, ending the game.
Tennessee will move on to host Arkansas State on Sat., Sept. 6th at noon in Neyland Stadium. For continued coverage of Tennessee Football, follow us on @Vol_Football on Twitter.
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TopicsA.J. Johnson, Aaron Medley, Aggies, Alton Howard, Arkansas State, Brendan Downs, Brian Randolph, Cameron Sutton, Derek Barnett, Ethan Wolf, football, Hunter Sharp, Jake Thompson, Jalen Hurd, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Jason Croom, Josh Smith, Justin Worley, Knoxville, knoxville tennessee, Marlin Lane, Marquez North, Nathan Peterman, Neyland, Neyland Stadium, Orange Swarm, SEC, Southeastern Conference, Tennessee, Tennessee Football, Tennessee Vol Football, Tennessee Vols, Todd Kelly Jr., University of Tennessee, UT, UT Football, UT Vol Football, Utah State Aggies, Utah State Football, Utah State University, Vol Football, Vols, Volunteers, Von Pearson