KNOXVILLE — Hendon Hooker threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores to lead Tennessee to a 59-10 season-opening victory over Ball State Thursday night.
Hooker, in his second year as the Volunteers’ starter after transferring from Virginia Tech, had 211 yards passing by halftime along with a 38-0 lead. Eight different receiver caught passes in the first 30 minutes. He was replaced by Joe Milton midway through the third quarter.
“(Hooker) was really efficient,” said Tennessee coach Josh Heupel. “He was in command; in control. He was in complete command of the football game.”
Jaylen Wright led the Tennessee ground game with 86 yards and a touchdown.
“Tennessee is good at what they do from an offensive standpoint,” said Ball State coach Mike Neu. “It’s tough to slow down an offense like that with a quarterback playing at a high level.”
“We have more guys who understand the ‘why’ behind (what’s being done),” said Heupel, comparing his second season to last year. “We’re a deeper team than a year ago.
“We know more about this football team than a year ago. Roles are going to change throughout the season.”
The Cardinals’ bruising running back Carson Steele was limited to 27 yards on 11 carries.
“(We were) disruptive up front,” Heupel said of his defense’s success against Steele. “We controlled the edges. We didn’t let him get vertical in their run game.”
Making his first career start at quarterback for Ball State, redshirt junior John Paddock threw for 269 yards and a TD. His first pass, on the game’s first play, was intercepted by Tamarion McDonald. Tennessee scored its first TD on the next snap.
“Credit John Paddock for battling back, especially after that punch to the gut to start the game,” said Neu. “Really proud of him for battling back.”
The Vol defense came up with three turnovers — two interceptions and a fumble.
Hooker extended his streak of games with having thrown a touchdown pass to 13, tied with Tony Robinson (1984-85) for second all-time in Vols’ history behind Heath Shuler’s 18 (1992-94)… Hooker’s two TD passes gave him 33 in his two-year career at Tennessee, 10th on the all-time list… Vols receiver Cedric Tillman had his streak of seven consecutive games with a touchdown reception come to an end. Tillman is Tennessee’s all-time leader… Tennessee has scored 45 or more points in its last four games, tying a school record set in the last four games of the 1993 season.
Ball State: The best thing to come out of Thursday night’s game in renovated Neyland Stadium was the $1.5 million game check that will help the athletic department. The Cardinals, picked to finish last in the Mid-American Conference West Division can set their sights on improvement after the lopsided loss.
Tennessee: With the embarrassing 2019 season-opening loss to heavy underdog Georgia State still fresh in the minds of Volunteer fans, they were able to exhale when Tennessee, under second-year head coach Josh Heupel, showed it was focused and prepared. The Vols made positive strides that they will be able to take into next week’s trip to play No. 17 Pittsburgh.
Ball State: The Cardinals will jump into the MAC season next Saturday when they entertain rival Western Michigan.
Tennessee: The Vols will head to Pitt Sept. 10 with revenge on their minds. Last year, Tennessee gave up 27 points in the second quarter and lost a 41-34 decision to the Panthers.