Cincinnati’s offense stayed with Tennessee’s for a quarter.
But the Bearcats couldn’t match Tyler Bray and the Volunteers’ offense.
UT scored 14 points in each of the first three quarters en route to a 45-23 victory over Cincinnati Saturday night at Neyland Stadium in front of the 94,207 people in attendance.
“It was a real good win, and that’s a good football team,” coach Derek Dooley said. “They had us on our heels early.”
The Bearcats (1-1) scored on their third play from scrimmage on a 65-yard touchdown run by tailback Isaiah Pead. It was the only lead they had in the game.
“I thought we were ready to play and jumped out early, but when you go on the road, you have to play with a high level of consistency,” UC coach Butch Jones said. “You can’t beat yourself.”
UT (2-0) answered with back-to-back touchdown drives. The first on a 2-yard run by tailback Marlin Lane, and the second on a 33-yard pass from Bray to Justin Hunter, to put the Vols up 14-7 midway through the opening quarter. UC then tied the game at 14 with 6:28 left in the first quarter on a 13-yard reception by tight end Adrien Robinson from quarterback Zach Collaros.
The Bearcats wouldn’t score again until the third quarter.
In the second quarter, Bray connected with receiver Da’Rick Rogers for two touchdown passes to give the Vols a 28-14 lead at halftime.
“Bray is playing at a high level right now,” Rogers said. “His confidence is at an all-time high. You can really see it in practice. He is playing with great poise and playing like a quarterback right now. He is really running things.”
After giving up 155 yards in the first quarter to Cincinnati, UT’s defense responded, holding the Bearcats to 396 offensive yards for the game.
“We need to get better at coming out in the first half,” sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith said. “In the second half, we definitely came out and attacked them instead of the vice versa.”
Pead finished with 155 rushing yards on 14 carries, with 105 of those coming in the first quarter. Collaros was 21-of-34 for 230 yards and two touchdowns, but ran for just one net yard, despite being known as a dual-threat quarterback.
The Vols stopped UC twice on fourth-and-shorts near midfield in the second quarter and held Cincinnati to a field goal in the third quarter after Collaros drove the Bearcats down to the UT 1-yard line.
“Those were difference-makers,” Dooley said.
Bray finished 34-of-41 for 405 yards and four touchdowns, and also added the rushing score. UT finished with 531 yards of total offense. Senior tailback Tauren Poole topped the century mark, rushing for 101 yards on 21 carries.
The win gave UT its first 2-0 start since the 2006 season when the Vols opened the year with home victories over California and Air Force.
Up next will be the the first road game of the season and conference opener against the Florida Gators.
“Before we start patting ourselves on the back a little bit, let’s just feel good about the win and go see if we can keep up with these guys next week,” Dooley said.