KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – First-year Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel‘s fast, up-tempo offense was on full display Saturday as Orange captured an action-filled 42-37 victory over White at the 2021 Chevrolet Orange & White Game in Neyland Stadium.
Offensively, 821 yards and 39 first downs were generated on 99 total plays during the contest. A total of 573 yards came through the air, with 79 points scored between the two squads.
“Today was a great day for Tennessee football,” Heupel said. “I’m so appreciative of the fans that came out and were a part of our attendance today. With the uncertainty of the weather, they still showed out in great fashion and brought a lot of energy to the stadium. I know our players and staff appreciated that. To the VFLs that came back, there were so many that came back and were a part of this weekend with our current players. The guys having the opportunity to all get together brought a ton of energy to the program.”
Sophomore quarterback Harrison Bailey enjoyed a successful day, engineering four touchdown drives and finishing 12-of-16 passing for 260 yards and two touchdowns. He tossed three scoring strikes for the Orange and another for the White.
Redshirt sophomore Brian Maurer finished the day 9-of-15 for 171 yards with one touchdown, while graduate transfer Hendon Hooker rushed five times for 13 yards and a touchdown and was 10-of-14 through the air for 111 yards with a touchdown and the game’s lone interception.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jack Jancek led all receivers, racking up 137 yards, including a 73-yard TD strike from Bailey. Redshirt senior wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. snagged three balls for 86 yards and a touchdown, while redshirt junior wide receiver Cedric Tillman had five catches for 67 yards and a score and sophomore receiver Jalin Hyatt grabbed four passes for 58 yards.
Defensively, Tennessee was led by redshirt freshman linebacker Will Brooks with six stops, and by freshman defensive back Christian Charles and redshirt senior defensive back Kenneth George Jr. with five tackles each. Junior defensive back Warren Burrell came up a pick-six for the defense as well.
The White got on the board first with 12:11 to go in the first quarter, with Small (31 yards) and freshman back Jaylen Wright (30 yards) accounting for 61 of the nine-play drive’s 70 yards on the ground. Wright burst into the end zone from seven yards out for the capper. Graduate transfer Chase McGrath added the PAT to make it 7-0.
The Orange bounced back quickly, with Bailey connecting with Jancek on a third-down deep ball down the right sideline for a 73-yard scoring strike. Redshirt junior Toby Wilson’s PAT tied up the score at 7-all with 11:28 remaining in the opening frame.
The White team answered promptly and retook the lead, thanks to a 45-yard pass from Maurer to Hyatt and a 16-yard scamper by Maurer. While the unit couldn’t punch it into the end zone, McGrath’s 28-yard field goal made it 10-7 in favor of the White with 9:17 to go in the opening stanza.
The Orange wasted little time moving back in front as Bailey tossed his second scoring strike, this time finding Jones Jr. on a 20-yarder. A 52-yard connection between the two on the second play of the drive significantly expedited the process. Wilson added the PAT to make it 14-10 with 8:39 left in the first.
Hooker engineered an 11-play, 75-yard drive to wrestle back the lead for the White, with Orr picking up 38 of it on the ground. It was Hooker’s four-yard rush, however, that was the final flourish. McGrath’s PAT made it 17-14 with 5:01 to go in the period.
The Orange used another big play to move back in front with 8:34 to go in the second frame. Jancek hauled in his second long pass of the day, this one from Maurer and good for a 64-yard gain to the three. Tight end Hunter Salmon completed the drive, catching a three-yard toss, and Wilson booted the extra point to make it 21-17, Orange.
The Orange defense padded the lead on the White’s next series, as Burrell stepped in front of a Hooker pass and returned it 34 yards to pay-dirt. J.T. Carver came on to boot the PAT and make it 28-17 in favor of the Orange squad with 6:38 left before the half.
Bailey led the White’s response, a seven-play, 75-yard drive that cut the deficit to 28-24. The signal-caller went 3-of-3 for 60 yards on the drive, with a 37-yarder to sophomore wide receiver Jimmy Calloway accounting for a large chunk of it. Small, though, put the ball in the end zone, carrying it in from seven yards out, while McGrath added the PAT to close out the scoring in the first half.
The Orange got the ball first in the second half, and Bailey marched his unit 75 yards in 11 plays. The sophomore connected with sophomore wide receiver Andison Coby twice for a total of 31 yards, and he converted a third-down with a nine-yard pass to Hyatt before junior running back Tiyon Evans finished the job with a one-yard plunge. Wilson’s PAT made it Orange 35, White 24, with 10:15 to go in the third period.
The White bounced right back with Maurer under center. The redshirt sophomore helped his cause with a 27-yard strike to Tillman and a 15-yarder to redshirt senior tight end Princeton Fant. Small put the exclamation point on the drive, crashing in from two yards out. McGrath tacked on the extra point to trim the Orange’s lead to 35-31 with 12:52 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Spencer Smith came on to lead the Orange right back down the field and pushed the Orange advantage to 11, 42-31. Redshirt freshman running back Antonio Malone carried it in from a yard out with 5:52 to go in the contest, and Wilson kicked the PAT. Orr rushed four times for 43 of his team’s 75 yards on the drive.
The White finished the proceedings with a scoring response of its own to make the final score Orange 42, White 37. With Hooker calling the signals and going five-for-five passing, his unit moved 75 yards in eight plays. Hooker’s key actions included tosses of 14, 11 and eight yards to junior wide receiver Ramel Keyton and passes of seven and 29 to Tillman. The 29-yarder was a diving catch in the corner of the end zone for the game’s final points, as time expired and no PAT was attempted.
Saturday was the 15th and final practice date of the spring for the Volunteers, who now turn their attention to summer workouts. Tennessee opens the 100th year of Neyland Stadium against Bowling Green on Sept. 4.