Tennessee pounds Western Carolina 55-10

WHAT HAPPENED: Tennessee took a 41-3 lead into halftime and rolled to a 55-10 victory over Football Championship Subdivision foe Western Carolina 55-10 in front of 102,136 on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

The Vols improved to 2-1. The Catamounts fell to 1-2.

Tennessee scored 34 unanswered points to start the game. Junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs started the scoring with a 25-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Preston Williams. Sophomore kicker Aaron Medley made a pair of field goals in that stretch. Sophomore Jalen Hurd rushed for one touchdown and caught another and sophomore Alvin Kamara rushed for  2-yard touchdown score. 

Western Carolina finally got on the board with a 32-yard field goal with one minute to go, but sophomore Evan Berry answered with an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with his older brother and Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry in the crowd, making it 41-3 at the break.

Kamara took a punt back 50 yards for a touchdown with 11:23 to go int he third quarter, then Williams caught a second touchdown pass with a 24-yard reception with 7:45 to go. Western Carolina got its only touchdown on a 64-yard touchdown run by running back Detrez Newsome.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: The Vols made a point to throw the ball more, and Dobbs was sharper this week than he was a week ago, passing for 144 yards and two touchdowns, completing 15 of his 21 throws. Freshman quarterback Quinten Dormady was also sharp, completing six of eight passes for 93 yards and a touchdown.

Hurd rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and caught two passes for 12 yards and a score. Williams caught three passes for 98 yards and two scores. Kamara became the first Tennessee player since 1975 to rush for a touchdown and score on a punt return since 1975.

Evan Berry had his kickoff return, and safety LaDarrell McNeil had arguably the highlight of the game with a 57-yard interception return after he was nearly ruled out for the season with a neck injury.

WHY DID IT HAPPEN: The talent gap was massive, and Tennessee took advantage of that as they should have. Newsome ran for 128 yards and a touchdown, but 108 of those yards came on two carries. Taking those plays out, the Catamounts had just 81 rushing yards and 171 yards of total offense.

The Vols ran the ball 49 times, but only 18 of those carries were taken by their top two running backs. They still finished with 236 yards on 49 carries. They finished with 447 yards of offense to Western Carolina’s 279, and they played 17 true freshmen in the game to get as many second-stringers time as possible.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Ultimately. the Vols won a game they were supposed to win by about the margin they were supposed to win it, so it doesn’t alter the narrative of the season in any way. They did get what they needed to get from the game, making some progress with the passing game, getting freshman and young players needed game reps, and remembering the feel of victory before heading down to the Swamp for a critical game against Florida.

That, ultimately, is the most important thing about Saturday’s game, and why it was smart scheduling to put a game against an FCS team in between the Oklahoma and the Florida game. The Vols needed somehow to wipe the taste of last week’s blown victory out of their mouths. Beating Western Carolina doesn’t make them any more likely to beat Florida or any other SEC team, but it makes it less likely they’ll still be carrying the Oklahoma game with them in the Swamp.