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Tennessee posted its largest margin of victory since a 63-7 victory over Western Kentucky in 2009.
Knoxville, TN –Tennessee secured bowl eligibility for the third straight season with a commanding 55-0 victory over Tennessee Tech on Saturday before a crowd of 98,343 at Neyland Stadium in the program’s 93rd homecoming game.
The Volunteers (6-3) piled up 471 yards of total offense, including a season-best 379 yards in the first half and recorded their first shutout since a 24-0 victory in last year’s homecoming game on Nov. 14 against North Texas. The win was Tennessee’s largest shutout victory since a 65-0 triumph over Vanderbilt on Nov. 26, 1994 and helped the Vols improve to 6-0 all-time against Tennessee Tech.
Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Josh Malone (3) makes a catch for a touchdown in front of Tennessee Tech safety Ricky Ballard (30) during the first half at Neyland Stadium. (Michael Patrick/Knoxville News Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK)
UT scored on six of its seven possessions in the opening half, including touchdowns on the first four while racing out to a 38-0 halftime lead.
Two of Dobbs’ touchdown throws went to Josh Malone, who set a career high with 112 receiving yards. Malone tied career highs with five catches and a pair of touchdown grabs as well.
Sophomore running back John Kelly also had a career day while making his first-career start. The Detroit native topped the century mark for the first time in his career, totaling 104 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries, all in the first half.
The Volunteers’ defense was stout throughout the game, holding the Golden Eagles (3-6) to 224 total yards, the least by UT opponent this season. The Big Orange also made six stops on fourth down in the game and had 13 tackles for loss to go along with four sacks. True freshman Nigel Warrior led the team with a career-best seven tackles while Cortez McDowell added three stops and made his first-career interception.
Tennessee Volunteers running back John Kelly (4) runs for a touchdown against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles during the first quarter at Neyland Stadium. (Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)
Tennessee didn’t waste any time getting on the board, taking a 7-0 lead on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Dobbs to Malone just 57 seconds into the game. Tyler Byrd returned the opening kickoff 31 yards to the Tennessee Tech 46 yard line to give UT great field position before Dobbs found Malone wide open in the endzone on the game’s third play.
The Vols’ defense held strong on the Golden Eagles first drive of the afternoon, stopping a fourth-down attempt at their own 28 yard line to give the ball back to the offense.
Just 43 seconds later, Dobbs found Malone again for a 43-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to spot UT an early 14-0 advantage. Dobbs sat in the pocket and lofted a perfect pass to the endzone where Malone was able to get a foot in bounds before breaking the plane for his seventh touchdown catch of the season.
Following a three and out by TTU, Kelly made it 21-0 after bursting through a hole off tackle and sprinting down the right sideline for a career-long 73-yard touchdown run on the first play of the drive. The touchdown run was the longest for Tennessee under head coach Butch Jones.
The offense continued to roll with a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter as Dobbs hit Jauan Jennings with a back-shoulder throw in the corner of the endzone to cap off a 10-play, 73-yard drive. It was Dobbs’ third touchdown pass of the half and Jennings’ fifth scoring reception of the season.
True freshman running back Carlin Fils-Aime plowed in from two yards out for his first-career touchdown to give UT a 35-0 lead with 4:23 remaining in the first half. The Vols tacked on a 19-yard Aaron Medley field goal as time expired to complete the first-half scoring.
Fils-Aime reached pay dirt for the second time on the afternoon on Tennessee’s opening drive of the second half. Marquez Callaway’s 52-yard punt return set the Vols up on the Golden Eagles’ 22 yard line and Fils-Aime punched it in from a yard out three plays later to make it 45-0.
UT’s defense made its fourth stop on fourth down when McDowell intercepted a pass deep in Tennessee territory late in the third quarter to keep Tech off the board and preserve the shutout.
After another fourth-down stop by the Vols’ defense, Medley split the uprights for the second time with a season-long 42-yard field goal to make it 48-0 with just under 12 minutes to play. Tennessee capped off the scoring with a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown by Callaway with 2:45 left in the game. Callaway had two punt returns for 114 yards in the game.
Dormady took over for Dobbs on the final drive of the first half and played nearly the entire second half, completing nine of 13 passes for 109 yards, all career highs. Redshirt freshman Sheriron Jones also saw action behind center for one possession, completing his only pass attempt for two yards in his first-career game played.
Tennessee Tech starting quarterback Michael Birdsong finished the game 17-35 passing with 164 yards and an interception. Dontez Byrd was Birdsong’s top target, hauling in nine catches for 121 yards while Andrew Goldsmith led the Golden Eagles in rushing with 39 yards on seven carries.
Vols Going Bowling
Today’s win makes Tennessee bowl eligible for the third consecutive season. The last time the Vols went to three straight bowl games was during the 2002-04 seasons under Phillip Fulmer.
Tennessee improved to 71-19-3 all-time on homecoming with wins in seven of its last eight homecoming games. Today’s game marked the 93rd homecoming contest and 100 years since UT’s first ever homecoming game, which took place in 1916.
This is also the second straight season that the Vols have earned bowl eligibility with a win on homecoming after doing so last year with a 24-0 win over North Texas on November 14th.
Tennessee continues its three-game homestand when it hosts Kentucky on November 12th. The Vols have won 30 of the past 31 meetings against the Wildcats, including 15 straight at Neyland Stadium.