KNOXVILLE — Tennessee made quick work of Montana in its season opener Saturday, but wasn’t in any rush for an impressive victory.
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray passed for three touchdowns in the first 16 1/2 minutes while helping the Volunteers to a 28-7 halftime lead and they sputtered from there to a 42-16 victory.
The game was delayed by lightning an hour and 40 minutes, and lightning quickly struck figuratively once play began.
UT sophomore wideout Justin Hunter set a personal single-game record for receiving yards – in the first quarter. Bray connected with Hunter for an 81-yard TD pass on a 3rd-and-7 to give the Vols a 14-0 lead with 8:36 left in the first quarter.
Bray had already passed to fellow sophomore Da’Rick Rogers for a 47-yard TD on a flea flicker with 12:47 remaining. Rogers’ catch came on the first play after Vols defensive back Anthony Anderson recovered a fumble.
“Tyler did a good job. … For the most part he managed the game well,” second-year UT coach Derek Dooley said. “We’ve got some guys that can make some big plays on the perimeter, and they showed it.”
Freshman running back Marlin Lane’s 9-yard TD reception gave Tennessee a 21-0 lead with 13:21 left the first half, and senior Tauren Poole’s 8-yard run made it 28-0 four minutes before intermission.
But Tennessee’s touch of gray was its running game. The Vols had 79 yards rushing on 35 carries through three quarters, and finished with 129 yards on 45 attempts.
The Vols struggled to run straight ahead, which led to turning the ball over on downs on a 4th-and-goal late in the game and cost UT a safety in the third quarter on the first play after the Grizzlies downed a punt at the Tennessee 1.
Poole was dropped for the safety by defensive tackle Ben Hughes, which made the score 28-9 with 12:45 left in the third quarter.
“We’ve got to look at the film and clean it up and hopefully get better next week,” Dooley said. “They had a lot of juniors and seniors on defense, and you could tell. … We were hoping to run a little bit better than we did. … Montana’s got some big, thick stout guys who’ve played a lot of snaps.”
Any feint hope the safety might have given the small gathering of Montana fans was quickly dashed when UT cornerback Art Evans jumped a wide receiver screen 35 seconds later and returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown.
Tennessee’s final score came on a 1-yard run by Lane with 9:10 left.
The Grizzlies’ first score was an 80-yard TD pass from Jordan Johnson to Jabin Sambrano with 3:49 left in the first half. Their final TD came with 6:04 remaining when running back Jordan Canada caught a high snap off the fingertips of backup quarterback Jordan Kemp and ran about 30 yards for a 7-yard touchdown.
The 6-foot-6 Bray finished 17-of-24 passing for 293 yards. The 6-foot-4 Hunter finished with six catches for 146 yards. Rogers had five catches for 100 yards.
Poole finished with 24 carries for 99 yards. Lane had 10 carries for 37 yards.
Tennessee hosts Cincinnati on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Bearcats, who were picked to finish sixth in the Big East also played an FCS opponent Saturday, beating Austin Peay 72-10.