The Volunteers didn’t exactly zap the Zips. The visitors kicked a couple of field goals and hurt some feelings.
Three Vols went out prematurely with injuries. Jimmy Calloway was ejected for fighting back against a face mask violation. Coach Josh Heupel ran onto the field to protest a low hit on Hendon Hooker.
Tennessee advanced to 3-0, walloped Akron, 63-6, racked up 676 yards (fifth most in school history) and set the stage for the Southeastern Conference opener against incoming Florida.
Akron wasn’t very good.
The Vols may be favored against the Gators if the injured are healed. Starting running back Jabari Small was lost early to a shoulder injury. Top receiver Cedric Tillman suffered a twisted knee and limped to the dressing room. Freshman runner Dylan Sampson scored two touchdowns but went out with a leg injury.
Hooker again started slowly but suddenly turned brilliant again. He hit 14 of 18 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns. Joe Milton, showing off for the full house of 101,915, was sharper than the Hook. He completed four of five for two touchdowns, to Ramal Keyton and Walker Merrill.
Slot receiver Jalin Hyatt and running back Jaylen Wright scored twice each. Hyatt produced long pass plays of 57, 48 and 47.
Freshman quarterback Tayven Jackson faked out the foes and ran for a touchdown. Colorful freshman Squirrel White didn’t score but contributed a very exciting 47-yard completion.
Akron had a warrior. Quarterback DJ Irons, injured against Michigan State last week and listed as at least questionable and perhaps doubtful, played all but the final few seconds and completed 32 of 44 for 241 yards. He was hit hard, time after time, but kept getting up and resuming the fight.
Irons was sacked twice by Elijay Herring and once each by Bryson Eason and James Pearce.
Jeremy Banks made an impact. Daniel George, a Zip with the ball, almost made it to the goal. The linebacker blasted him, the ball threatened to go into orbit, and LaTrell Bumpus recovered in the end zone.
“Good, solid win,” said Heupel.
The coach praised the big crowd.
“Absolutely electric … the best Vol Walk I’ve ever been a part of … the energy, the noise, all a huge part of the game … a lot of fun to play in front of our fans, for our staff and our players … we all appreciate what they did.”
Heupel saw the significance of selling out a non-conference game.
“College football is as good as it gets. And this fan base is as good as it gets. They care. They’re passionate. You can feel their energy. You can feel their optimism. You can feel their belief.
“I’ve never been part of anything like this.”
Heupel said he didn’t know about the extent of injuries to Tillman and Small.
“Don’t know but we’re hopeful. We held them out from that point on, because of the scoreboard and to get those guys some treatment.”
The coach measured his words carefully about the tone of the game. He saw that Tillman was hurt by a low blow.
“There were a few low hits. It was one of the chippiest games that I’ve been a part of, certainly that we’ve been a part of here.”
Heupel frowned on the fight and Calloway’s ejection.
“Disappointing because it takes away from the rest of the football game. It’s not who we are or what we stand for in any area of our program. Jimmy’s disappointed, too.”
The coach said it was a teachable moment for everybody.
“Can’t do it. We’re not going to be able to do that and beat good football teams as we get into conference play. Can’t do anything that takes away from the team, that hurts the team.”
Heupel was pleased that Juwan Mitchell made an appearance at linebacker. The transfer from
Texas lost most of last season to injuries and was absent in the Ball State and Pitt games. He made one stop against Akron. The coach said it wouldn’t be fair to evaluate the performance until he sees the video.
“His week of preparation was really good.”
Heupel thought Tayven Jackson’s first touchdown was contagious.
“He was really excited. You could see the excitement for all of our young guys in all their faces. Offense, defense, even special teams. When young guys make plays, our vets are really excited for them. Pretty cool moment for him.”
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected].