KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — UTSA redshirt freshman quarterback Owen McCown completed 18 of 20 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, all in the second half, but No. 20 Tennessee stormed out to an early lead and never looked back in a 45-14 decision on Saturday afternoon in front of 101,915 fans at Neyland Stadium.
The Volunteers (3-1) built a 14-point lead through the first five minutes and withstood a third-quarter push from the Roadrunners (1-3) in the first meeting between the two schools on the gridiron.
McCown came off the bench and completed his first 10 pass attempts to spark the UTSA offense and cut the deficit to 31-14 with a little more than five minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Rusk, Texas, product broke the program record for single-game completion percentage with his .900 mark, eclipsing Frank Harris' .866 (13-15) posted against Lamar in 2021.
Trailing by 31 points at the break, UTSA marched 75 yards in 15 plays on the opening possession of the second half to get on the board. McCown completed all eight pass attempts on the drive capped by a 3-yard touchdown to Joshua Cephus.
The UTSA defense then came up with a three-and-out to force a punt. McCown kept his completions streak alive with two more, including a 43-yard catch-and-run by Tykee Ogle-Kellogg, who played at nearby Alcoa High School, to help pull the visitors within 31-14.
The Vols pushed their lead back out to 24 early in the fourth quarter with Jabari Small’s 1-yard plunge that put an end to a 12-play, 66-yard drive.
Dylan Sampson broke loose for a 41-yard touchdown dash later in the final frame to provide the final margin.
Cephus led UTSA with seven receptions for 58 yards, while Devin McCuin caught four passes for 35 yards and Oscar Cardenas added four catches for 31 yards.
Kevorian Barnes also had four receptions for 13 yards to go with a team-high 13 rushes for 40 yards.
It did not take long for Tennessee to strike first, as Joe Milton scampered 81 yards on a quarterback keeper on the first play from scrimmage to put the home team up 7-0.
The Vols forced a three-and-out and a punt, then drove 62 yards in nine plays, the last a 10-yard TD rush up the middle by Sampson to push the lead to 14 at the 10:05 mark of the opening period.
UTSA had to settle for another punt on its next possession. Tennessee partially blocked the kick and then tried to pick up the loose ball for a return but fumbled, resulting in a recovery by Kelechi Nwachuku for the Roadrunners’ first takeaway of the season. UTSA then marched to the Vols 19-yard line but a fourth-down pass attempt sailed incomplete to end the drive.
Tennessee tacked on a pair of touchdowns and a field goal in the second quarter on an 18-yard reception by Kaleb Webb, a 48-yard grab by Ramel Keyton and a 29-yard field goal by Charles Campbell with 3:21 left in the half.
Sampson paced the Tennessee ground game with 139 yards on 11 carries, while Milton and Small added 89 and 61, respectively, as the Vols tallied 303 rushing yards and 512 total yards.
The Roadrunners are off next weekend before they open American Athletic Conference play on Oct. 7 at Temple. A kickoff time and television network designation are expected to be announced on Monday, Sept. 25.