Hooker leads Tennessee over Ball State, 59-10

Jamar Coach/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

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.


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.


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.


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.

Grainger gifts Georgia State a 51-20 Camellia Bowl win

camellia bowl
Mickey Welsh/USA TODAY Sports

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Darren Grainger passed for 203 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 122 yards and a fourth TD to lead Georgia State to a 51-20 victory over Ball State in the Camellia Bowl on Saturday.

The Panthers (8-5) finished with their seventh win in eight games and dominated the lone bowl played on Christmas Day.

Grainger completed 15 of 19 passes and carried 11 times, including a play fake midway through the third quarter when he scampered 34 yards untouched into the end zone. It was the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, and he was named the game MVP.

Ball State (6-7) couldn’t summon up many big plays after Drew Plitt‘s 56-yard touchdown bomb to Jayshon Jackson for an early lead.

Tight end Aubrey Payne had two touchdown catches for Georgia State, along with career-highs of eight catches and 109 yards.

The Panthers defense also supplied two touchdowns: a 37-yard fumble recovery by defensive end Javon Denis and a 55-yard interception return by Antavious Lane that ended the team’s 28-point third quarter.

Plitt completed 27 of 46 passes for 293 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Ball State, which was without injured leading receiver Justin Hall. Jackson caught 12 passes for 146 yards.


Georgia State: Completed a dramatic turnaround after a 1-4 start that included losses to Army, North Carolina, Auburn and Appalachian State. The nation’s No. 8 ground game dominated Saturday, churning out 259 yards.

Ball State: Had a disappointing ending after gaining bowl eligibility with a 20-3 win over Buffalo in the regular-season finale. A failed fourth-and-1 try from its own 34 in the first half led to a field goal. The Cardinals fell to 1-9-1 in bowl games.


Ball State was without two offensive line starters -left guard Anthony Todd (injury) and right tackle Damon Kaylor (COVID-19 protocol) – along with Hall. Georgia State starting noseguard Dontae Wilson was also unavailable for undisclosed reasons.

Perfect Alabama finishes No. 1 in AP Top 25 for 12th time

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports Images

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Alabama finished the season No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the 12th time, extending its record by completing the program’s first perfect season since 2009.

The Crimson Tide were a unanimous No. 1 in the final poll, getting 61 first-place votes, after beating Ohio State 52-24 in the College Football Playoff championship game Monday night.

Alabama was the preseason No. 3, but when it started playing this strange season amid a pandemic in late September it moved up to No. 2. The Tide jumped to No. 1 in early November and finished as major college football’s only undefeated team.

“We set this as a goal, to potentially be the greatest team to ever play,” Tide quarterback Mac Jones said. “I think we made a valid statement in winning the national championship tonight.”

The Buckeyes were second, followed by Clemson at No. 3. Texas A&M was fourth, finally passing Notre Dame for the Aggies’ best finish in the AP poll since they won the national title in 1939. The Fighting Irish made the playoff but slipped to No. 5 after losing to Alabama in the semifinals.

For the Crimson Tide, it is the sixth national title under coach Nick Saban in the last 12 seasons. No other team has won more than two during that time. With 12 AP titles overall – Paul “Bear” Bryant was coach for five and Gene Stallings for one – Alabama has four more than Notre Dame, in second place with eight.

Big 12 champion Oklahoma finished No. 6, Georgia seventh and Cincinnati was eighth.

The Tide, Aggies and Bulldogs give the Southeastern Conference three teams in the top seven. The SEC finished 7-2 in the bowls, counting Alabama’s national championship victory.

Iowa State was No. 9, its best final ranking and only the third time the Cyclones have finished the season ranked. Northwestern finished 10th, the Wildcats’ best final showing since they went to the Rose Bowl in 1995 and were eighth in the last poll.

The Big 12 finished with a perfect record in five bowl games. Oklahoma and Iowa State were joined by No. 19 Texas and No. 20 Oklahoma State in the final rankings from that conference.

The ACC’s postseason was a dud at 0-6. Clemson, Notre Dame, No. 18 North Carolina and No. 22 Miami gave the ACC four ranked teams.

The odd season in a pandemic put a spotlight on teams outside the Power Five conferences as never before, and the final poll treated the upstarts well.

Cincinnati, the American Athletic Conference champ, was one of eight non-Power Five teams to land in the Top 25.

Independent BYU finished No. 11, the Cougars’ best final ranking since they finished the 1995 season fifth.

Sun Belt rivals Coastal Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette were Nos. 14 and 15, respectively. That conference had never finished with two ranked teams. Liberty, another independent, was 17th.

Rounding out the bottom of the poll were No. 23 Ball State, the Mid-American Conference champ, No. 24 San Jose State, the champ of the Mountain West, and No. 25 Buffalo, another MAC school.