Tennessee was supposed to beat UConn, but not like this.
The Huskies were only 1-7, but four losses were by one possession, and they hadn’t allowed more than 41 points in game.
That didn’t matter to the Vols. Tennessee ran through, passed over and dominated defensively to score a 59-3 homecoming victory Saturday as UT honored the late great Pat Summitt by wearing accent blue.
Was this the complete game the Vols had been looking for?
“No,’’ said quarterback Joe Milton, who was an efficient 11 of 14 passing for 254 yards and two touchdowns. “We’ve got a lot more work to do.’’
That was hard to tell based on the Vols’ performance against UConn.
Tennessee rushed for 275 yards on 34 carries, passed for 375, totaled 650 yards on 65 plays and turned defense into offense.
The Vols (7-2) scored a school-record three defensive touchdowns: a 24-yard fumble recovery by defensive end Tyler Barron, a 30-yard interception return by safety Jaylen McCullough and a 39-yard pick six by linebacker Aaron Beasley.
“When the defense scores,’’ said Beasley, “it brings a lot of energy.’’
All three defensive scores came within seven minutes of playing time, bridging the first half and the second half.
UT did so much scoring on defense, Milton and most of the first-team skill players didn’t play a snap in the second half.
When they played in the first half, they produced big plays.
Running back Jaylen Wright scored on an 82-yard run on the game’s second snap.
Milton hit Ramel Keyton for a 60-yard score on the third series.
And Milton found Squirrel White for an 83-yard score with five minutes left in the first half for a 28-3 lead.
At that point, the Vols were averaging about 14.6 yards per play.
It’s not always easy to take care of business against a lesser opponent (UT was favored by 35 points). The Vols didn’t play all that great in beating Austin Peay and Texas San Antonio. But the UConn outcome was a different story.
“I challenged the team the last 48 hours, and this morning (to be focused),’’ Heupel said. “This game will kick you in the butt if you don’t have that competitive edge.’’
Not to worry. UT kicked UConn in the butt so soundly that the second-team offense started the second half and prized quarterback Nico Iamaleava got two series, hitting McCallan Castles on a clever 19-yard pass in which Iamaleava faked a run up the middle before firing a strike across the middle.
While the crowd cheered Iamaleava, Milton had his third straight efficient performance. He threw for two scores, ran 6 yards for another and is playing at a high level.
Milton is in his sixth year of college football and he’s 23 years old. So most people view him as a finished product. Not Heupel.
“Joe is still a young starter in our system,’’ Heupel said of Milton, who has 13 starts at UT. “And there are a lot of new pieces in our system.
“His eyes were in the right spot. He was accurate. He controlled the run game. That’s why he’s playing as efficiently as he is.’’
Milton will need to continue to play at a consistently high level the next two weeks, when the Vols travel to Missouri (7-2) and then host top-ranked Georgia (9-0).
About the only element that marred the UConn win were 11 penalties for 90 yards.
But then, nobody’s perfect – even in a 56-point win.