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Tennessee remembers the Mission and protects Home Turf against UTSA 45-14
by Tom Mabry, Knox Daily Sun UT Football Writer
September 24, 2023, 2:44 p.m.

ut vols beat roadrunners

Everyone wanted to forget the Florida debacle in The Swamp, but there are times when a memory serves a higher purpose. Tennessee had such a memory against first ever foe Texas-San Antonio. The result was a resounding rebound win.

Playing before yet another sellout crowd at Neyland Stadium, the Vols took advantage of a sunny afternoon by starting fast and completing the mission to the tune of 45-14. The great re-awakening began with a stunner in the first play from scrimmage.

The pundits’ nearly universal critique in the days leading up to the game was the failure of QB Joe Milton III to run the ball effectively. The enunciated theory posited Milton as an effective rusher who either wasn’t given the opportunity to run or wasn’t taking the opportunity given his cannon of a right arm for passing prowess. Milton responded by taking the ball on a zone read and rambling 81 yards for a touchdown on the very first play from scrimmage. His run set the record for the longest quarterback touchdown running play in Tennessee football history.

Another question mark was the baffling absence of running back Dylan Sampson in the Florida game. The star of the season opener against Virginia did not play a down against the Gators. Zero touches. Against UTSA, he scored a touchdown on a ten yard run in the first quarter on the way to an eleven carry, 139 yards and two touchdown day. Sampson also caught a 20 yard pass for a twelve touch day.

Those questions answered, the team was able to rely on its defense and the play of Aaron Beasley, Elijah Herring and Tamarion McDonald to shut out the visitors in the first half. Touchdown receptions by Kaleb Webb (18 yards) and Ramel Keyton (48 yards) and a field goal banged off the goal post by Charles Campbell led to a 31-0 halftime lead. The Vols’ margin would likely have been more but for a mishandled blocked punt in the first quarter that gave the Roadrunners an unlikely first down and an inexplicable thirty yard gain.

ut vols beat roadrunners

UTSA’s Eddie Lee Marburger, filling in for injured starter Frank Harris, suffered through a lowly 10.8 quarterback rating and was picked off by McDonald in the first half. In his defense, the Volunteer defense was alert, swarming and relentless. Eddie Lee’s efforts or lack thereof led to a substitution by the Roadrunners at QB to start the second half.

Lefty Owen McCown, son of former UCLA great and NFL player Cade McCown, led two UTSA scoring drives in the third quarter to cut the lead to 31-14. One of McCown’s touchdown strikes was an impressive 43 yard pass and sterling run by Alcoa, TN, native Tykee Ogle-Kellogg. After this touchdown, the boisterous crowd was quieted and collectively wondered if the Vols could regain the momentum and close out UTSA after the third quarter doldrums.

neyland stadium

Not to fear, two fourth quarter touchdowns - a 1 yard run by Jabari Small and a 41 yarder by Sampson - and shutting down the Roadrunners’ offense paved the way to the final 31 point margin. Touted freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava saw some playing time at the end of the game as did many of the players down the depth chart which will help with the foes to follow.

The opponent next Saturday is South Carolina. Yes, the Gamecocks. Those guys who rang up 63 points on Tennessee in 2022, injuring Hendon Hooker and destroying the Vols’ College Football Playoff hopes. VFL Marcus Hilliard of the AD’s staff advised that Tennessee’s players have the SC game circled on the calendar. Their QB Spencer Rattler led them to a 37-30 win over Mississippi State last night on 18-20 passing for 288 yards. The task won’t be easy, but nothing in SEC football is ever easy.


*No one can claim that Tennessee’s offense was unbalanced against UTSA. The Vols rushed 33 times and passed 33 times.

*Long time UT sportswriter Jimmy Hyams pointed out a statistical anomaly: the Vols had 31 first down plays. On those plays, Tennessee gained 395 yards. That has to be a record.

*VFL Heath Shuler attended the game and received an alumni award. He also took the opportunity to watch his daughter Island participate with the Tennessee Dance team in performances during the game. Shuler’s son Navy is a UT quarterback. The proud papa was spotted with a camera catching the action.

*Dylan Sampson credited his motivation for athletic proficiency to the PBS TV show “Wild Kratts.” He said he always got fired up when one of the main characters put on the Cheetah outfit. Sampson sure looked like a Cheetah on his 41 yard fourth quarter run.

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