Tennessee’s starters didn’t have to stay in long on homecoming on Saturday night. Quarterback Josh Dobbs tossed three touchdowns, two to Josh Malone and one to Jauan Jennings, and running back John Kelly ripped off a 73-yard touchdown run en route to a 38-0 halftime lead over Tennessee Tech. But some of the Vols’ starters were out even before halftime, and it allowed seldom-used players to come in and get a shot to shine.
And those inexperienced players left their mark on Saturday against Tennessee Tech.
Several players saw their first significant playing time of their careers on Saturday, and some saw the field for the first time all year and in their careers. Even John Kelly, who got the start at running back, is typically a backup for the Vols. But Jalen Hurd’s departure and an injury to Alvin Kamara forced him into the starting role, and he shined brilliantly in his first start, racking up 104 yards on just seven carries.
But he wasn’t the only running back to look good on Saturday.
Freshman running back Carlin Fils-Aime ran the ball eight times for 27 yards and scored the first and second touchdowns of his career. Then freshman Jeremy Lewis got in on the action, gaining 38 yards on seven carries. Even freshman Michael Lacey made an appearance, carrying the ball once for two yards.
Wide receivers Jeff George and Marquez Callaway and tight ends Eli Wolf and Jakob Johnson hauled in their first career receptions as Vols on Saturday. Callaway, a freshman, got his first career touchdown on a 62-yard punt return late in the fourth quarter as well. Freshman receiver Brandon Johnson set career highs in receptions (5) and yards (64) in an expanded role that saw him on the field early in the first half.
Quarterback Quinten Dormady saw his most action of his career, completing nine of his 13 passes for 109 yards. Redshirt sophomore Sheriron Jones got in late in the fourth quarter and completed the first and only pass of his career thus far for two yards.
On defense, several seldom-used Vols saw the field in Saturday’s 55-0 rout. But before that, some more experienced, but still lesser-utilized Vols, got in on the action.
Junior Dimarya Mixon recorded his first career sack on Saturday, and freshman cornerback Marquill Osborne also sacked Tech’s quarterback for the first sack of his career. Freshman safety Nigel Warrior led the team in tackles with seven, and he picked up a tackle for loss too. Junior linebacker Cortez McDowell picked off his first career pass in the third quarter as well. Junior linebacker Elliot Berry picked up his first start on Saturday and totaled three tackles and half a TFL.
Redshirt freshman Darrell Taylor saw the most action he had seen in his young career, totaling three tackles, a tackle for loss, three quarterback hurries, and a pass break up. Fellow defensive end LaTroy Lewis, who has been banged up this year, made an impact as well, totaling two tackles, half a sack, and half a tackle for loss.
Other defenders who saw the field and recorded stats were sophomore Quay Picou, freshman Daniel Bituli, redshirt sophomore Dillon Bates, redshirt sophomore Gavin Bryant, redshirt senior Charles Folger, and redshirt sophomore Paul Bain.
Callaway made his mark on special teams, but he wasn’t the only player to make his first appearance in the third phase of Tennessee’s team. Redshirt junior Holden Foster recorded his first PAT kick on Tennessee’s final score of the game.
The Vols won’t need all these players down the stretch in their bid for an SEC East crown. But some of these younger players who contributed on Saturday will be called upon in the final month of regular season football, and their production was a promising sign for Tennessee on homecoming.