KNOXVILLE — After spotting Arkansas State an early touchdown, Tennessee scored 17 straight points and eventually built a 31-12 lead en route to a 34-19 win over the Red Wolves at Neyland Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Playing before a near-sellout crowd of 99,358, the Vols looked sharp at times on either side of the football, while at other times looking like the young and inexperienced team they are.
Senior quarterback Justin Worley continued to impress, 22 of 38 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. Worley also ran for a touchdown.
Worley completed passes to nine different receivers. Von Pearson was his favorite target, with four catches, but left the game with an ankle injury and did not return. True freshman tight end Ethan Wolf also left the game, with a knee injury, and did no return. The status of either player was not immediately clear.
Arkansas State quarterback Fredi Knighten gave Tennessee's defense problems with his ability to run or throw. Knighten completed 21 of 34 passes for 166 yards and a score, and led the Red Wolves in rushing, with 65 yards.
But Tennessee's defense was able to play just good enough, sacking Knighten three times and limiting Arkansas State to 331 yards of offense.
Knighten's early touchdown run gave Arkansas State a 6-0 lead. A long catch by Pearson set up an Aaron Medley field goal to cut that lead in half, and Tennessee took the lead for good on a four-yard run by true freshman Jalen Hurd with 4:02 to play in the opening quarter.
Later, Tennessee went up 17-6 on a 10-yard pass by Worley that saw sophomore receiver Marquez North make a tough catch in the back of the end zone.
Arkansas State scored with 4:10 to play in the first half when Tres Houston caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Knighten.
But the Vols struck right back, with Worley scoring on a 5-yard run with 1:20 to play in the half.
The Red Wolves appeared set to get good field position in Tennessee territory early in the second half, but LaDarrell McNeil recovered a muffed punt, and that led to another Worley-to-North touchdown, covering 14 yards, with 7:52 to play.
Tennessee's offense hit the skids after that touchdown, and the Vols would not seriously threaten to score again until late in the game, when Medley connected on a 38-yard field goal to push the lead to 34-19. Earlier, Medley missed a 35-yard field goal.
The Vols will travel to Norman, Okla., to face the Sooners on Sept. 13 at 8 p.m.