Four Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Out Classes Ball State In Blowout Win

    by -

    Photo via Tennessee Athletics

    Tennessee opened Josh Heupel’s second season in drama free fashion, dominating Ball State, 59-10.

    The Vols got off to as good as a start as possible and coasted past the mid-tier MAC foe in front of 92,236 inside the newly renovated Neyland Stadium.

    Here’s four quick takeaways from Tennessee’s convincing season opening victory.

    Fast Starts Are Back

    Tennessee made a habit of starting games fast in Josh Heupel’s first season. None of those starts were as fast as the way the Vols’ started Heupel’s second season in Knoxville.

    Ball State won the toss and elected to receive the opening kick. The Cardinals had a trick up their sleeve, running a reverse flea flicker.

    Tennessee was ready.

    Aaron Beasley hammered quarterback John Paddock as his throw sailed directly into Tomarion McDonald’s chest. Hendon Hooker found Jalin Hyatt for a 23-yard touchdown the next play.

    Two plays, one interception and one touchdown. How’s that for a start?

    The dominance continued throughout the first quarter. Ball State recorded just two first downs and played with nothing to lose, failing to convert on a pair of fourth downs.

    That gave Tennessee one short field and in three first quarter drives the Vols scored two touchdowns and kicked a field goal to take 17-0 lead at the end of one.

    When Tennessee found the end zone on the third play on the second quarter, the game was all but over.

    Tennessee Plays Lots Of Bodies Early

    Playing lots of players in a game you win by 49-points and lead by 31-points at halftime is no surprise. However, Tennessee played lots of players early in Thursday night’s win with most of the second team defense and back up running backs and receivers earning snaps before the end of the first quarter.

    Freshman linebackers Elijah Herring and Josh Josephs both earned snaps on Ball State’s second drive with Herring specifically being on the field on third downs.

    A season after never playing more than three inside linebackers, the Vols played five inside linebackers in the first quarter. That’s not counting Juwan Mitchell who missed the season opener.

    Along the defensive line, Tennessee rotated at normal rates with Bryson Eason, Dominic Bailey and Da’Jon Terry earning a plethora of snaps off the bench.

    Seniors Jaylen McCollough and Trevon Flowers were staples on the field in the first half, but the three other spots in the secondary saw consistent rotation. Warren Burrell, Christian Charles and Kamal Hadden all earned relatively even reps at the two cornerback spots, and Wesley Walker saw consistent snaps behind Tomarion McDonald at STAR.

    On offense, Tennessee got reps early for back up receivers Ramel Keyton, Jimmy Holliday, Squirrel White and Walker Merrill all saw consistent playing time.

    Keyton and Merrill each made plays, with Keyton hauling in a 32-yard catch on third down and Merill hauling in a 16-yard touchdown on third down.

    Along the offensive line, Jeremiah Crawford quickly relieved Gerald Mincey at left tackle with the duo rotating reps throughout the first half.

    More From RTI: NCAA Changes Transfer Portal Rule

    Short But Effective Season Opener For Hooker

    Hendon Hooker’s day was over three minutes into the second half. After the Vols went 94-yards in 10 plays — eight of them runs — ending with their sixth touchdown of the night the super senior’s day was over.

    Hooker wasn’t perfect. The Preseason All-SEC selection threw a handful of high passes on receiver screens and missed Jalin Hyatt open over the middle on one throw.

    That’s just nitpicking though, as Hooker was effective throughout the evening and easily diced up Ball State’s young secondary.

    Hooker completed 18-of-25 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Josh Heupel and the offensive staff didn’t ask Hooker to use his legs much, but the former Virginia Tech quarterback kept the ball on a pair of read options for two rushing touchdowns on just 15 rushing yards.

    The senior quarterback looked confident and polished in his first start of the season. The real challenge comes next week at Pittsburgh.

    Tennessee Forces Three Turnovers To Open The Season

    It took Tennessee three games to force its first turnover last season. It took them all of one play this season when Beasley and McDonald blew up Ball State’s trick play.

    The Vols’ defense was far from perfect in the season opener, but there could be no complaints about their ability to create turnovers. Tennessee created three takeaways including an impressive Kamal Hadden interception and a Will Jones fumble into the end zone for a touchback.

    For a defense that has flaws and will certainly struggle at times this season, forcing turnovers will be extremely important. Forcing three in any game makes Tennessee tough to beat.

    Like most everything in Thursday’s season opener, you have to take the turnovers with a grain of salt. Still, it was a nice way for the Tennessee defense to start the season.

    Ryan Schumpert is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. Ryan spent three years with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program before joining RTI. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.