Another brick was laid in Knoxville tonight.
The Tennessee Volunteers opened their 2014 season with a convincing 38-7 win over Utah State Sunday at Neyland Stadium. The Vols looked terrific on both sides of the football, scoring five offensive touchdowns and shutting down the Aggies on defense. Leading up to kickoff, many speculated that a potential upset by Utah State was possible, before Tennessee grabbed quick momentum. Here’s five things to take away from the Vols’ big opening win:
- Justin Worley played like a senior quarterback: A few weeks ago, Tennessee senior Justin Worley was competing for the Vols’ starting quarterback role. Yeah, we all may have assumed he would win the job, but the fact that Worley, in his final season in Knoxville, needed to compete says it all. Worley’s time in Knoxville is riddled with inconsistency. Tonight’s win was the best performance of his career. Worley went 27-of-38 with 273 yards and three touchdowns. He looked poised in the pocket and showed enough mobility to provide somewhat of a threat in a read-option offense. This was the Justin Worley that Tennessee fans have been waiting to see since his arrival in 2010.
- Running backs split carries evenly: Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd both made 11 rushing attempts. Lane ran for 41 yards and a touchdown while Hurd recorded 29, adding a 16-yard touchdown reception as well. Hurd showed promise in his first collegiate game and will grow as a running back over the course of the season. Lane looks to benefit from Hurd’s arrival and the duo should become a solid tandem this season.
- Offensive line improved as game continued: The inexperienced Tennessee offensive line was called for five penalties in the first half. Outside of an early 3rd quarter false start, the lineman avoided being flagged for the remainder of the game. As for blocking, Justin Worley had time in the pocket to make passes and the rushing attack accounted for 110 yards. The line, at least temporarily, may have silenced some of the doubt about their inexperience with an impressive performance against a solid Utah State front seven.
- Chuckie Who?: Many thought Chuckie Keeton was a Heisman Trophy candidate before this game. Against the Tennessee defense, he was held to 144 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown on 18-of-35 passing. The inexperienced defensive line provided plenty of pressure to Keeton and the linebacking group didn’t disappoint. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the least seasoned of the three linebackers, was all over the field and should make a successful leap from special teams standout to starting outside linebacker.
- The players are buying into Butch Jones: This team is something special. Butch Jones has convinced players to buy into his “brick by brick” rebuilding process and this team acts like a happy family. The players run over to each other after injuries and walk their teammates off the field. They sprint to huddles and gather like I’ve never seen a Tennessee do in recent memory. This team will be fun to watch moving forward and definitely has an unrivaled camaraderie.