KNOXVILLE (AP) — Justin Hunter tied a school single-game record Saturday by catching three of Tyler Bray’s four touchdown passes, as Tennessee trounced Football Championship Subdivision program Georgia State 51-13 in its home opener Saturday.
Vols 51, Panthers 13
Hunter caught eight passes for 146 yards in his second game back for Tennessee (2-0) after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last September. A Tennessee player had caught three touchdown passes in a game eight previous times, most recently by Chris Hannon in a 59-21 victory over Mississippi State in 2003.
Bray went 18 of 20 for 310 yards and completed his last 13 passes, the third-longest streak in school history. His other touchdown pass was a 19-yarder to Mychal Rivera, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday.
Rajion Neal added two touchdown runs for Tennessee, which broke the game open against the Panthers (0-2) when Hunter scored twice in the last 4 1⁄2 minutes of the first half.
The blowout assures Tennessee takes a perfect record into next week’s Southeastern Conference opener against Florida, which has beaten the Volunteers seven consecutive times. The Vols recorded their highest single-game point total since Derek Dooley took over the program in 2010.
Tennessee also won its first two games last year thanks in part to the Bray-Hunter combination, but the season went downhill from there.
Hunter tore the ACL in his left knee early in a loss to Florida in the Vols’ third game of 2011. Bray missed five games later in the year with a fractured right thumb and wasn’t the same upon his return. The Vols finished 5-7 for their second straight losing season, the first time in a century they had posted losing records in back-to-back years.
Bray and Hunter now seem back in peak form.
Through his first two games of the season, Bray has thrown for 643 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
After showing some signs of rust last week in a 35-21 victory over North Carolina State, Hunter caught three touchdowns — the first time since 2003 that a Tennessee receiver ended up with that many in a single game.
Tennessee exceeded the 500- yard mark in total offense for a second straight week. The Vols hadn’t gained 500 yards in back-to-back games since 2000.
The one sign of concern for Tennessee was its kicking game, an issue in previous seasons as well. Michael Palardy missed an extra-point attempt for the second straight week and also was wide left on a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter. In the fourth quarter, Dooley turned to Derrick Brodus, who made a 25-yard field goal and an extra-point attempt.
Georgia State, in its last year as an FCS program before joining the Sun Belt next season, had been outscored 119-7 in its only two previous games against Football Bowl Subdivision programs. The Panthers endured another one-sided loss Saturday, though they at least kept this one close for 25 minutes.
A pair of field goals by Christian Benvenuto had Georgia State within 14-6 late in the second quarter, but Hunter caught two touchdown passes in the final 4 1⁄2 minutes of the half to put the game out of reach.