Hooker leads Tennessee over Ball State, 59-10

Jamar Coach/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn.  Hendon Hooker threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores to lead Tennessee to a 59-10 season-opening victory over Ball State Thursday night.

Hooker, in his second year as the Volunteers’ starter after transferring from Virginia Tech, had 211 yards passing by halftime along with a 38-0 lead. Eight different receiver caught passes in the first 30 minutes. He was replaced by Joe Milton midway through the third quarter.

“(Hooker) was really efficient,” said Tennessee coach Josh Heupel. “He was in command; in control. He was in complete command of the football game.”

Jaylen Wright led the Tennessee ground game with 86 yards and a touchdown.

“Tennessee is good at what they do from an offensive standpoint,” said Ball State coach Mike Neu. “It’s tough to slow down an offense like that with a quarterback playing at a high level.”

“We have more guys who understand the `why’ behind (what’s being done),” said Heupel, comparing his second season to last year. “We’re a deeper team than a year ago.

“We know more about this football team than a year ago. Roles are going to change throughout the season.”

The Cardinals’ bruising running back Carson Steele was limited to 27 yards on 11 carries.

“(We were) disruptive up front,” Heupel said of his defense’s success against Steele. “We controlled the edges. We didn’t let him get vertical in their run game.”

Making his first career start at quarterback for Ball State, redshirt junior John Paddock threw for 269 yards and a TD. His first pass, on the game’s first play, was intercepted by Tamarion McDonald. Tennessee scored its first TD on the next snap.

“Credit John Paddock for battling back, especially after that punch to the gut to start the game,” said Neu. “Really proud of him for battling back.”

The Vol defense came up with three turnovers – two interceptions and a fumble.

NUMBERS GAME

Hooker extended his streak of games with having thrown a touchdown pass to 13, tied with Tony Robinson (1984-85) for second all-time in Vols’ history behind Heath Shuler’s 18 (1992-94)… Hooker’s two TD passes gave him 33 in his two-year career at Tennessee, 10th on the all-time list… Vols receiver Cedric Tillman had his streak of seven consecutive games with a touchdown reception come to an end. Tillman is Tennessee’s all-time leader… Tennessee has scored 45 or more points in its last four games, tying a school record set in the last four games of the 1993 season.

THE TAKEAWAY

Ball State: The best thing to come out of Thursday night’s game in renovated Neyland Stadium was the $1.5 million game check that will help the athletic department. The Cardinals, picked to finish last in the Mid-American Conference West Division can set their sights on improvement after the lopsided loss.

Tennessee: With the embarrassing 2019 season-opening loss to heavy underdog Georgia State still fresh in the minds of Volunteer fans, they were able to exhale when Tennessee, under second-year head coach Josh Heupel, showed it was focused and prepared. The Vols made positive strides that they will be able to take into next week’s trip to play No. 17 Pittsburgh.

UP NEXT

Ball State: The Cardinals will jump into the MAC season next Saturday when they entertain rival Western Michigan.

Tennessee: The Vols will head to Pitt Sept. 10 with revenge on their minds. Last year, Tennessee gave up 27 points in the second quarter and lost a 41-34 decision to the Panthers.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.