The Tennessee Vols dominated an out-matched Akron Zips team on Saturday in Knoxville. It was an outcome that was expected, as the Vols entered the game as 47.5-point favorites. Tennessee did everything they needed to do in the game on both offense and defense.
The Vols needed a focused effort, a stout defensive performance, and a strong running game, as laid out in our game preview. And they delivered on all three demands.
Tennessee Vols Game Grades Akron Edition
Tennessee’s offense continued a trend of slow starts to games so far this season. Which is completely opposite of their early game performances from 2021. Sure, the Vols put up 63 points, but they were bailed out on penalties on multiple occasions in the first half. They were also under 50% on 3rd down conversion and had to convert four times on 4th down in the first half to keep drives alive.
Offensive Stat of the Game: 238 Rushing Yards and 5 Rushing TDs.
Hendon Hooker‘s stat line wasn’t bad — 14-for-18 with 298 yards and two touchdowns in one half plus two drives. He started a little sluggish, however, just as he did last week against Pitt. Almost every single ball he threw in the first quarter was high, leading to either incompletion or putting receivers in vulnerable positions. He was able to find his groove midway through the second quarter as the Vols started cruising late in the first half. Hooker himself was a B+ tonight. Joe Milton was able to get some quality time leading the offense and had an A performance. Look — Hooker is the unquestioned starter on this team, but Milton’s pure arm talent is off-the-charts. He was accurate tonight, and that should have Tennessee fans salivating at the possibilities of what he can do in the future. Milton finished the night 4-for-5 for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns of his own. Freshman Tayven Jackson added a rushing touchdown in the last minute of the game.
Running Backs: A
Tennessee accounted for 238 yards on the ground just short of the 250 yards gained goal set out in our “Three Things to Look For” preview for the game. Jaylen Wright led the Vols with 96 yards, but Dylan Sampson provided some glimpse of his promise after Jabari Small left with an injury in the first half. It was a strong performance for the backs as the Akron defense tried to take away the deep passing attack in the first half.
In the execution of the receiving game, Tennessee’s wideouts had a strong game, accounting for 20 receptions, 438 yards, and 4 touchdowns. It was the other things that got the receivers marked down slightly. Two offensive pass interference calls, one negating a touchdown, and an ejection for throwing punches for Jimmy Calloway are mental mistakes that the receivers just can’t make, especially in a blow-out game against an out-matched opponent. Jalin Hyatt had easily his best game as a Vol with 5 receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns. Hyatt was able to shine after Cedric Tillman left the game due to an injury in the first half.
Offensive Line: A
The offensive dominated the Zips at the line of scrimmage all night long. They were obviously effective in the run game and the quarterbacks didn’t face pressure at all. They were especially effective in short yardage situations — those fourth down conversions in the first half that enabled the Vols to continue drives and build momentum in the first quarter. It was really the offensive line that carried the offense early in this game, much the way Hooker did last week in Pittsburgh.
Tennessee’s defense continued its progression this week. They held Akron to just 35 yards rushing. While Akron quarterback D.J. Irons was impressive between the 20s, throwing for 241 yards, Tim Banks‘ squad was able to keep the Zips out of the end zone on the two occasions that they threatened.
Defensive Stat of the Game: Akron 1-13 on 3rd Down Conversion
Defensive Line: A
The defensive line wasn’t able to pressure the quarterback as well as they did against Pitt, but they were absolutely stout in the run game. They showed their athleticism on several tackles on the edge — prevented Akron from gaining large chunks of yardage. As with everything else, they’ll face a tougher challenge next week, but for tonight, a solid A effort for the defensive line on Saturday.
Aaron Beasley and Jeremy Banks continued to punish opposing quarterbacks and running backs. They were solid again in run defense and tackling. Banks wasn’t tested much in the passing game this week, but he will next week. Facing Irons was good preparation for facing Anthony Richardson next week. The Vols are still looking to get a little more time from Juwan Mitchell, who played in a limited role tonight.
Defensive Backs: A-
Kamal Hadden and Tamarian McDonald had solid days, again, for the Vols. The Zips managed 241 passing yards, but that came on 44 pass attempts. Most of those throws were conservative, as the Zips average 5.5 yards per completion, and Tennessee had an interception that was missed by both the ground officials and the replay booth. Hadden, McDonald, and Trevon Flowers were again solid in run defense and putting pressure on the offensive backfield.
Special Teams: B
Certainly a marked improvement from last week, but the special teams still missed three opportunities. Chase McGrath missed a field goal on the first drive of the game. The Vols also missed an easy punt block. Lastly, Squirrel White seemed posed to return a punt for a touchdown and got tripped up by the last defender in space. Still, the blocking and coverage teams were much better than last week. Entering SEC play, the third phase of the game might be the difference in a game or two.
The defense looked great. The offensive play calling was more fluid this week. And the team was clearly focused and not looking ahead to the big match-up next weekend. However, the Vols had 11 penalties for 118 yards and the aforementioned ejection. The Vols have struggled with discipline with penalties all season. The coaching staff has to clean that up heading into conference play.
Tennessee will host Florida in a Top 20 matchup in Knoxville next weekend for the biggest game in Knoxville in quite some time. Tennessee will be favored, and Florida is coming off two hard weeks with a loss to Kentucky and barely eeking out a win against a bad USF team. If Tennessee wants to take the next step up in their progression, these are the games that they need to win.
But Tennessee fans know the anxiety coming this week. The Vols have lost five straight, even while the Florida program has been in turmoil, and 16 of the last 17.
Can the Vols change the tide of this SEC East rivalry?