Tennessee was fired up. You could tell it was a new year and Vols head coach Butch Jones had the team ready to go. As Tennessee simply dominated Utah State en route to a 38-7 win Sunday night in Neyland Statium, the orange nation had a lot to be happy about.
Sure, you could make the argument that Utah State was not strong. However, there were a lot of people that said the Aggies would prove to be a stiff test for the young Vols. Some even predicted the Vols to be upset by the visiting Mountain West opponent.
If it wasn’t apparent that the new look Tennessee team was ready from the opening kickoff, you were watching a different game. The Vols were fired up, and it showed. Tennessee put on a show in front of the sold out 102, 455 crowd – the first time a season opener has been sold out since 2007.
Vols senior quarterback Justin Worley was able to manage the offense and the A.J. Johnson led defense was able to shut down the Aggies team led by darkhorse Heisman candidate Chuckie Keeton.
Worley threw three touchdown passes and completed 27 of 38 passes for 273 yards on the night. Two of his three touchdown passes went to new Vols: Freshman Jalen Hurd and junior-college transfer Von Pearson. Utilizing those two weapons as well as an experienced tight end in Brendan Downs, who caught Worley’s first touchdown pass, enabled the Vols to capitalize.
The defense was led by Johnson, who forced a fumble on special teams, recorded an interception and finished with nine tackles.
Having Johnson on the field was huge for the Vols defense, but putting him on special teams to lead that unit was brilliant. Johnson was often times to first one down the field, and he fired up the team the entire game.
There were many strong performances Sunday night, but Johnson’s was probably the most impactful. Here is a player that decided to return for his senior season. Having a opening season performance like this validates his reason for returning to the Vols.
Utah State may not have played like the team many thought they would see Sunday night, but regardless of their performance, the Vols were ready to play.