NASHVILLE, Tenn (WATE) – Tennessee started off the 2023 season with a bang, taking down Virginia 49-13 in front of a record 69,507 fans inside Nissan Stadium. Dylan Sampson led the way with four touchdowns, the most by a Tennessee running back since John Kelly’s four-score performance against Georgia Tech in 2017.
The Vols scored their first touchdown of the season on their first drive of the season. On 4th-and-5, Joe Milton hit Dylan Sampson on a screen pass and ran it in from nine yards out for the opening score.
Tennessee went for it again on fourth down on its second drive, but the Virginia defense came up with the stop and took over on the Vols’ 29-yard line. After three quick downs, the Cavaliers went for the field goal, but Will Betridge’s try from 28 yards out sailed wide right.
Virginia tried to get up field late in the third, but the two-headed monster of Omari Thomas and James Pearce had other plans. Back-to-back sacks from the duo on Virginia quarterback Tony Muskett led to the Vols offense heading back onto the field. However, that drive ended with Joe Milton being sacked by Virginia’s Olasunkonmi Agunloye.
The first quarter ended on a sour note as Dee Williams made a nice gain on a punt return, but a fumble led to Virginia starting out with the football to start off the second quarter. Yet again, the Cavs weren’t able to get anything going offensively with a quick three and out.
After scoring just three minutes into the game, the Vols didn’t score again until four minutes left in the first half. Dylan Sampson picked up his second touchdown of the day, running into the end zone from three yards out, on a 13-play drive down the field to give Tennessee a 14-0 lead.
After missing a 28-yard field goal in the first quarter, Virginia got on the board with a kick from 30 yards out.
With under two minutes left in the half, the Vols put together another scoring drive. Jaylen Wright had a trio of good rushes to get down the field, and then it looked like Jabari Small ran into the end zone to extend Tennessee’s lead. It was ruled a touchdown on the field, but after a review, the call was reversed as Wright was ruled down at the one. Joe Milton took care of the rest, running it home to give Tennessee a 21-3 lead at the break.
The Vols offense got back to work quickly to start the second half. Wright ran for 25 yards and then Squirrel White made a nice grab to get the Vols on Virginia’s 20-yard line. The sophomore was down on the ground for a while after that catch, but was able to get back up and walk on his own. Milton hit Bru McCoy on a 14-yard pass to put Tennessee on the one-yard line. Milton ran in for the score to put the Vols up 28-3.
Tennessee forced another three-and-out from the Cavaliers and then cashed in on the other end. Dylan Sampson ran it in from three yards out as the Vols took a commanding 35-3 lead in the third quarter.
Virginia made its way into the end zone for the first time with 3:05 left in the third. Perris Jones ran it in from 17 yards out.
Tennessee took a 42-10 lead thanks to an 11-yard touchdown pass from Milton to Jacob Warren. It marked the Farragut alum and sixth-year senior’s first touchdown since Nov. 6, 2021 vs. Kentucky.
Nico Iamaleava entered the game in the fourth quarter, leading the Vols on a seven-play 40-yard scoring drive. With already an impressive afternoon, Sampson capped it off with a four-yard touchdown run for his fourth score of the game to give the Vols a 49-10 advantage.
The Vols host Austin-Peay inside Neyland Stadium Sept. 9 at 5 p.m.