KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee will look to improve to 2-1 on the season this Saturday afternoon when the Volunteers host the UTEP Miners at Neyland Stadium.
Kickoff for Saturday’s contest is slated for noon ET on the SEC Network with Dave Neal (play-by-play) and DJ Shockley (analyst) calling the action in the booth and Dawn Davenport reporting from the sidelines. Vol Network radio affiliates will have a live audio broadcast with Bob Kesling, Tim Priest and Brent Hubbs. Sirius (Channel 98) and XM satellite radio (Channel 190) will also carry the game.
The Vols are coming off their first win of the Jeremy Pruitt era, a 59-3 victory over ETSU in last Saturday’s home opener. Pruitt became the fifth straight UT head coach to win his home opener in his first season, as the Big Orange won their 14th consecutive game against an in-state non-conference opponent.
Five Vols Score First Collegiate Touchdown
Tennessee had five players score their first-career touchdown in Saturday’s win over ETSU (Marquill Osborne, Jeremy Banks, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Josh Palmer and Jordan Murphy). Osborne returned his own blocked punt for UT’s first touchdown of the game, Banks posted a pair of rushing touchdowns, Kirkland recorded his first-career pick-six, Palmer scored on end-around in the second quarter and Murphy caught a 50-yard pass in the fourth quarter.
Graduate transfer running back Madre London also found the endzone for the first time in a Tennessee uniform, rushing for a pair of scores. Fellow grad transfer Keller Chryst threw his first touchdown pass for UT in the fourth quarter as well.
Protecting the Ball
Tennessee has not committed a turnover through two games this season and boasts a plus-four turnover margin, which is tied for ninth nationally. The Big Orange are one of just three teams in the county that have played two or more games that have not committed a single turnover. The other two are Clemson and LSU.
Finding Ways to Score
The Vols scored a pair of non-offensive touchdowns against the Buccaneers last week. Junior defensive back Marquill Osborne blocked a punt in the first quarter and returned it eight yards for a touchdown to put UT ahead 10-0. Later in the half, redshirt junior linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. intercepted a pass on a tipped ball and raced 33 yards to the checkerboards to give the Vols a 31-0 lead.
The las time the Big Orange blocked a punt and had a pick-six in the same game was back on Nov. 3, 2007 in a 59-7 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
Thompson Earns SEC Honors
Tennessee cornerback Bryce Thompson was named the SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday for his standout performance against ETSU. The Irmo, South Carolina native became the fourth true freshman to start for the Vols this season and had four tackles, two tackles for loss, one pass breakup and made his first-career interception in last Saturday’s victory.
Extra Yard for Teachers
Tennessee will wear helmet stickers and take part in other initiatives on game day in support of the College Football Playoff Foundation’s Extra Yard for Teachers platform. The CFP supports education across the country. The Extra Yard for Teachers campaign elevates the teaching profession by inspiring and empowering teachers through the implementation of programs in four focus areas: resources, recognition, recruitment and professional development.
The University of Texas at El Paso is led by first-year head coach Dana Dimel, who spent the previous nine seasons as the offensive coordinator at Kansas State. This is Dimel’s third head-coaching stint after spending time as the head man at Wyoming (1997-99) and Houston (2000-02). Dimel was the head coach at Wyoming in 1999 when the Vols defeated the Cowboys, 42-17, in Neyland Stadium.
The Miners are led by a dynamic playmaker at quarterback in Texas transfer Kai Locksley. The junior signal caller was named the 2017 Spalding NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year after leading Iowa Western C.C. to an 11-1 record last season. Through two games with UTEP, Locksley leads the team in passing yards (177) and rushing yards (169). Locksley rushed for 119 yards and two scores in a loss to UNLV last week.
UTEP is led by another transfer on the defensive side of the ball, as linebacker A.J. Hotchkins has tallied 21 tackles to lead the team through two games. The former Oregon Duck came to the Miners as a graduate transfer this offseason.
Saturday’s meeting between the Vols and Miners will be the third time the two programs have met on the gridiron. The last meeting between the two schools was nearly three decades ago when Tennessee blanked UTEP, 56-0, in 1990. The first time the two schools met was in 1986 with the Big Orange winning a close contest, 26-16.