The Ball State Cardinals (0-1) traveled down to Knoxville, Tennessee, on Thursday evening to face off against the Tennessee Volunteers (1-0) to start the 2022 campaign, ultimately suffering a 59-10 defeat under the lights at Neyland Stadium.
It was a game where the visitors found themselves in hot water from the jump, as new QB John Paddock was forced to evade pressure and throw a poorly-executed throw to the left sideline, which was easily picked off by Tamaron McDonald and returned for an additional five yards on the very first play from scrimmage.
The Vols took advantage, with Hendon Hooker quickly finding Jalin Hyatt for a 23-yard scoring play to take the instant 7-0 lead just two total plays into the game.
The next possession saw Ball State settle down and push the ball down field, getting from their own 18 to the Tennessee 38-yard line on a nine-play, 44-yard sustained drive. Tennessee was able to stop their progress, however, as the Cards got pass-happy and ultimately turned the ball over after four-straight incompletions.
The Vols would take the ensuing possession all the way to the BSU 16-yard line before ultimately settling for a 33-yard field goal by Chase McGrath, pushing the lead to 10-0 about halfway through the first quarter.
Taking possession on their own 25-yard line, Ball State would switch to the no-huddle, gaining nine yards on three plays before facing a third-and-one at their own 34-yard line. Carson Steele was stuffed at the line, and Tennessee called timeout. Instead of punting, head coach Mike Neu opted to go for it once again, with the John Paddock QB sneak also getting stuffed.
Tennessee converted the turnover-on-down for points, thanks in part to a pass interference call on third-and-two, with Hendon Hooker scoring on a QB scramble from seven yards out to push the lead to 17-0.
Ball State punted on three straight drives while Tennessee scored touchdowns on two of the three ensuing drives, pushing the gap to 31-0 with 1:45 to go in the first half.
The Cards had their best drive of the game on their last possession of the half, moving from their own 25-yard line to the Tennessee 33 with just three pass plays. John Paddock found running back Will Jones deep on the left sideline for a 31-yard pass play, but Jones ultimately fumbled the ball at the two-yard line, resulting in the dreaded offensive fumble-out-of-endzone touchback.
Tennessee would lead 38-0 at the half, adding another seven points to the board on a Jaylen Moore three-yard touchdown rush on the first possession of the third quarter, to put the gap at 45-0.
The bleeding finally stopped for Ball State on the ensuing drive, as the Cardinals capped off a 10-play, 75-yard possession with a three-yard connection from Paddock to Tanner Koziol to slim the lead to 45-7.
Play would mellow down for most of the third quarter until Tennessee threw down a dominant 13-play, 78-yard drive ending in a Dylan Sampson two-yard run with 1:48 remaining in the third frame. After another Ball State possession ending in nothing, backup QB Joe Milton III found Jimmy Holiday on a 53-yard strike to add to the already extensive lead, putting Tennessee up 59-7.
The game would see its final tally with 2:55 remaining, as the Cardinals converted a fumble by the Vols’ Justin Williams-Thomas into a 25-yard field goal by Ben VonGunten.
Ball State’s offense was outmatched on the day, but outside of a bad interception to start the game John Paddock availed himself well in his debut as a starter, finishing 27-of-43 for 269 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The offensive line performed very well in pass protection, allowing zero sacks.
Jayshon Jackson, Yo’Heinz Tyler and Amir Abdur-Rahman each tallied five receptions, with Jackson (65) leading Tyler (62) and Adbur-Rahman (42) in receiving yards. Carson Steele had a day he’ll want to forget, picking up only 27 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Defensively, Jack Blanco led the Cards in tackles (nine), while Malcolm Lee (seven tackles) also had a forced fumble, while Nic Jones had a fumble recovery. Jordan Riley (four tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one pass break-up) had the team’s lone sack.
For Tennessee, Hendon Hooker finished 18-of-25 for 221 yards and two touchdowns, while Joe Milton III finished 8-of-9 for 113 yards and a touchdown. Hooker added two rushing touchdowns on 12 yards to his total as well.
Jaylen Wright (13 rushes, 88 yards, one score) and Jabari Small (13 rushes, 63 yards, one score) split running back duties, while Dylan Sampson (10 rush, 32 yards, one score) saw a lot of mop-up duties.
Cedric Tillman led all receivers with 68 receiving yards on six receptions, while Jimmy Holiday (four catches, 62 yards) and Jalin Hyatt (two catches, 28 yards) each had touchdowns. Bru McCoy made his long-awaited college football debut after his much-publicized transfer dramas, pulling down three catches for 42 yards.
Warren Burrell, Christian Charles and Aaron Beasley each led the Vols defensive board with eight tackles apiece, while Kamal Haden and Temarion McDonald each had one interception.
Ball State will have their first conference matchup of the year in Week 2, taking on the Western Michigan Broncos for their home opener on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. Eastern time.
Tennessee prepares to play #17 Pittsburgh— who are coming off a win against West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl— on the road, with an expected kickoff at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.