KNOXVILLE — A Tennessee letdown after facing top-ranked Georgia?
The first-quarter prowess of the Volunteers wouldn't allow it.
Tennessee's football season filled with fast starts added another one Saturday night inside Neyland Stadium, where the Vols produced touchdown drives of 62 and 88 yards with their first two possessions to stake a 14-0 advantage after the first 15 minutes against South Alabama. In their first 11 games, this year's Vols have outscored opponents 162-44 during the first quarter.
"When we have started fast, and a lot of weeks we have, the group as a whole has been very focused and very locked in and ready to go compete," Tennessee first-year coach Josh Heupel said this past week. "I think the way we start our practices and the energy that we try to have as soon as the kids come up the stairs and into the meeting room all parlay into the group being ready to go compete when that opening kickoff happens."
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was 7-of-10 passing for 62 yards in the first quarter, while running back Jabari Small rushed seven times for 56 yards and a touchdown. The Vols amassed nine first downs and converted three third-down opportunities in the quarter, and they used just 3:57 of possession time.
"We're trusting each other and buying in with each other and trusting the coaches," fifth-year senior tight end Princeton Fant said. "We're just going to keep that going and keep it rolling."
Tennessee entered Saturday having been outscored 113-71 in the second quarter, but the Vols cut into that deficit with Hooker touchdown tosses of 27 yards to Cedric Tillman and 24 to Fant and a 96-yard Velus Jones kickoff return to the end zone that helped the hosts take a 35-7 halftime lead.
The Vols went on to win 60-14 and reach bowl eligibility with next Saturday's regular-season finale against Vanderbilt still remaining.