If there ever was a case of David taking on Goliath, the University of Tennessee at Martin’s football team drew a tough assignment in Knoxville last Saturday afternoon.
The No. 3-ranked Vols hosted UTM for homecoming and, unfortunately for the Skyhawks, there wasn’t a rock big enough in the blue-and-orange bag to fell the giant. Tennessee raced to a 52-7 first-half lead and won 65-24. The victory was another record-breaking step on the way to what is shaping up as a magical season on The Hill.
Say what you will of the Skyhawks. Sure, they are part of the FCS, in which they were the 14th-ranked team going into the game Saturday. This team was probably a bit better than the 2010 Skyhawk team that Tennessee defeated 50-0 that night. But this was a better Tennessee team, too.
Sure, it’s 2022. A lot of crazy stuff has happened this college football season. Ask Notre Dame, Nebraska and Texas A&M. And this new world of college football has demonstrated that anyone can beat anyone.
Ask Michigan in 2007, when then-FCS contender Appalachian State upset the No. 5 Wolverines in the Big House. In 2010, the same day UTM battled Tennessee, Jacksonville State, formerly of the OVC, beat Ole Miss in overtime. Twice then-FCS participant James Madison had vanquished Virginia Tech and Richmond took down Duke.
While the score may not suggest it, this is a pretty good UTM football team. If you watched the game Saturday, you had to be impressed with the play of Skyhawk linebacker corps. The backers were omnipresent against the Vols’ ground game. UTM even sacked Heisman contender Hendon Hooker.
When the Vols scored on their opening drive, UTM responded with a scoring drive of their own, tying the game at 7 mid way in the first frame. Oh, by the way, Dresser Winn competed at quarterback. He offered a fantastic effort. He was 26-45 for 301 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And he did it while scrambling through tall cotton. UTM receiver Colton Dowell had seven grabs for 112 yards. E.J. Smoot had seven catches for 88 yards and George Qualls, Jr. had five catches for 66 yards and two TDs.
As Rick Pitino said of UTM basketball when Kentucky hosted the Skyhawks in 1994, and won 124-50, “It’s tough to compete when you are overmatched and they (UTM) were.”
The Vols had too much depth and talent for UTM to mount much of a credible challenge. But, UTM did compete. It didn’t shrink and run. The Skyhawks took Tennessee’s best shot and kept getting off the canvas. UTM coach Jason Simpson had his team ready to play. There were a lot of positive things UTM can take away from this game moving forward, including the paycheck, which will help subsidize the Skyhawk athletic department. The Skyhawks are 4-3 overall, but more importantly, 3-0 in the OVC. This team can repeat as conference champs and, as I expect, probably will.
Let’s not forget another UTM playoff run. Last year, the Skyhawks, despite being banged up, made it to the second round of the FCS playoffs. Unfortunately, a Montana gale halted UTM’s run in early December. With the effort this bunch delivered at Knoxville Saturday, the FCS crowd, while pretty impressive, can’t overlook UTM. The Skyhawks visit the Huskies of Houston Baptist next.
If the FCS contenders overlook UTM, they do so at their own peril. UTM will gain a lot from Saturday’s experience.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of the Pressbox radio show, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT, Monday-Thursday on 95.9 FM, WRJB, Camden, Tenn.