Tennessee steps out of conference, crushes South Alabama
Hendon Hooker completed 17 of 20 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another score as Tennessee became bowl eligible with a 60-14 victory against South Alabama in a nonconference game Saturday night in Knoxville, Tenn.
Jabari Small rushed for two touchdowns and Velus Jones Jr. returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score for the Volunteers (6-5), in their first year under coach Josh Heupel. Jaylen Wright rushed for a game-high 83 yards on 13 carries, and Small added 73 on 11 attempts.
South Alabama’s Desmond Trotter, filling in for the injured Jake Bentley, was 19-of-32 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns. The Jaguars (5-6) would have become bowl eligible with a victory, but now will return home and need to beat No. 21 Coastal Carolina on Friday.
Hooker, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, is on pace to break a pair of school records. He entered the game sixth nationally with a 179.2 passer efficiency rating, which will only go up after Saturday’s performance. The record of 163 was set by Darryl Dickey in 1985.
Hooker’s completion percentage improved to 70.0, with Erik Ainge holding the current mark of 67.0.
As usual, the Volunteers got off to a fast start, taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter as Small and Wright scored on runs of 1 and 17 yards, respectively. Tennessee has outscored opponents 162-44 in the opening period this season.
The Jaguars had a chance to pull within a touchdown early in the second quarter, but Trotter was sacked for an 8-yard loss by Trevon Flowers on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
Herndon completed touchdown passes of 27 yards to Cedric Tillman and 24 yards to Princeton Fant to make it 28-0.
The Jaguars scored on a 3-yard pass from Trotter to Lincoln Sefcik with 1:36 left in the half, but Jones returned the ensuing kickoff to give the Volunteers a 35-7 halftime lead.
Small scored on a 3-yard run and Herndon from 6 yards out in the third to make it 49-7.
Tennessee’s Len’Neth Whitehead scored on a 5-yard run early in the fourth to extend the lead to 56-7, before Trotter threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Tolbert.
The Volunteers got two safeties to wrap up the scoring.
–Field Level Media