No. 12 Tennessee rolls to 49-13 win in emotional season opener for UVA

By Scott Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

The Virginia football team took the field in the season opener against 12th-ranked Tennessee Saturday as heavy underdogs at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. While it turned out to be a lopsided, 49-13 loss (as many expected), the most important thing was that the Virginia football team took the field Saturday — a huge step for all involved in the process of turning tragedy to triumph.

It had been 294 days since the Cavaliers last saw game action, as their 2022 season came to an abrupt end following the tragic shootings of Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry on Nov. 13.

The team shared in an emotional pregame ceremony and moment of silence, honoring their three fallen teammates, and then it was time to play some football.

UT quarterback Joe Milton III and the high-powered Volunteers’ offense wasted no time, setting the tone with a quick touchdown strike in just under three minutes, and it was the first blow of several on a long, hot afternoon for the Wahoos.

Dylan Sampson scored four touchdowns on the day (three rushing, another receiving), with Milton throwing for a pair and running in two more of his own.

The UVA defense kept things respectable for the most part in the first quarter and into the second, but the offense wasted some golden opportunities and came away with just 3 points in the first half, trailing by 18 at the break.

Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett got his first start as an FBS quarterback, and it didn’t go as he might have hoped. Muskett had very little time to do much of anything against the Tennessee front seven, as the Vols racked up 4 sacks and 10 tackles for loss on the afternoon against the struggling UVA O-line.

Muskett finished the game completing just 9 of his 17 pass attempts for 94 yards (no touchdowns, no interceptions), while losing a net of 23 yards on 10 carries. To make matters worse, a Tennessee defender landed hard on Muskett, and he was grabbing at his left shoulder when he exited the contest with 13:20 to play, and did not return.

True freshman Anthony Colandrea stepped in and finished the contest, and had a tough time generating offense in his first college experience. He was 2 for 7 through the air for 12 yards, and rushed twice for 17 more.

Perris Jones scored the lone touchdown for the Cavaliers on a 17-yard run late in the third quarter, but that only drew Virginia to within 25 points. Both Jones and Clemson transfer Kobe Pace led the team in rushing with 7 carries for 39 yards each.

Malachi Fields led the Hoos with 63 receiving yards on 4 catches, while Northwestern transfer Malik Washington added 29 yards on his 4 grabs.

There were a few positives to take away from the loss, but there are a lot of issues that will need to be addressed if the Hoos want to be able to be more competitive and consistent in the near future. UVA was outgained, 499-202, on the afternoon, and surrendered 29 first downs, as the Vols were a perfect 7-for-7 on red-zone chances.


Matt Ganyard, Virginia’s 34-year-old, walk-on kicker and retired Marine helicopter pilot, got things started with a solid opening kickoff of 61 yards, but UT’s Dee Williams had a 34-yard return to give the Vols favorable field position to start their first drive.

Milton led an 8-play, 62-yard march, culminating in a 9-yard touchdown toss to Sampson and a 7-0 lead in just 2:55.

The Cavaliers went three-and-out on their initial possession, with a pair of Muskett incompletions followed by a short reception by Washington, but got the ball right back at around the Vols’ 30-yard line after the Wahoo defense came up with a huge stop on fourth-and-1.

A first-down pass to Fields gave the Hoos a first-and-goal at the UT 9, but Muskett was sacked on third-and-long and then Will Bettridge pushed a 28-yard field-goal attempt too far right, and Virginia came away with nothing.

Lex Long had a key deflection on Tennessee’s ensuing third-down try, and Jackson Ross’ punt traveled just 17 yards, and UVA took over at the Vols’ 40, but again couldn’t move the chains and punted right back.

Su Agunloye registered a sack of Milton on third down of UT’s next possession, but Daniel Sparks ended up punting away for the third time, as the Hoos lost 12 yards on their ensuing set of downs. Williams returned it 19 yards but then fumbled, and Agunloye, who was injured on the play, recovered as time expired on the quarter.

UVA picked up just one first down and 2 total yards across the opening 15 minutes, compared to 110 for the Vols.


Virginia’s second drive of the period began from the Tennessee 46-yard line, marking the third Cavalier possession of the half to start in Volunteer territory, but again, UVA couldn’t find any offensive success and Sparks punted for the fifth time, with still over nine minutes left until halftime.

Milton responded with a 13-play, 90-yard scoring drive, as Sampson found paydirt on a 3-yard trot to make it 14-0 with 4:41 on the clock.

Muskett was finally able to get something going, hitting Fields for a 30-yard gain and then found Washington for 17 more down to the UT 18-yard line, leading to a 30-yard Bettridge field goal to get the Hoos on the board with 1:42 left.

The Vols had a quick answer, marching 75 yards in just 1:36, as Milton took it in himself from a yard out with just six ticks showing, and the Hoos went into the locker room trailing 21-3. Tennessee put up 302 yards in the first half, while the Cavaliers managed just 65, and had a net total of minus-8 rushing yards.


After a quick UVA three-and-out (the team’s sixth of the day) to begin the second half, Milton extended the lead to 25 with his second rushing TD of the day, and then after a turnover on downs, Sampson found the end zone for the third time on a 2-yard run midway through the quarter, pushing it to 35-3.

Jones had a nice 11-yard run to jumpstart the next Wahoo possession, just before Muskett found Fields for another first-down connection, this time for 15 yards. Pace followed that up with a 22-yard pickup down inside the Vols’ 20, and then Jones scored from 17 yards out with 3:05 remaining in the third, cutting the deficit to 35-10.

Just before the quarter ended, Williams had another terrific punt return of 55 yards, setting up the UT offense inside the UVA 30, as Sparks made what may have been a touchdown-saving tackle.


Milton delivered a bullet to tight end Jacob Warren from 11 yards out to make it 42-10 with 13:36 to play.

Muskett left the game on the next play from scrimmage with 13:20 to go after Tyler Baron dropped him for a 4-yard loss and landed awkwardly right on top of him.

Colandrea was then forced into the fire, and nearly threw a pick on his first pass attempt, and then fired incomplete for Fields to bring Sparks back on for another punt.

Sampson capped the UT scoring with his fourth TD of the day, this one from 3 yards away, with 11:06 left.

From there, Colandrea was able to settle in a little more and gain some valuable experience in the process. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder from St. Petersburg, Fla., eventually led his first career scoring drive just before the final horn, as Bettridge booted one home from 40 yards out in the final minute.

Game Stats

Scoring Summary
Virginia        0   3   7   3 — 13
Tennessee   7  14 14 14 — 49

First Quarter
UT (12:05) — Sampson 9-yd pass from Milton (Campbell kick). UT 7, UVA 3.

Second Quarter
UT (4:41) — Sampson 3-yd run (Campbell kick). UT 14, UVA 0.
UVA (1:42) — Bettridge 30-yd field goal. UT 14, UVA 3.
UT (0:06) — Milton 1-yd run (Campbell kick). UT 21, UVA 3.

Third Quarter
UT (10:52) — Milton 1-yd run (Campbell kick). UT 28, UVA 3.
UT (7:23) — Sampson 2-yd run (Campbell kick). UT 35, UVA 3.
UVA (3:05) — Jones 17-yd run (Bettridge kick). UT 35, UVA 10.

Fourth Quarter
UT (13:36) — Warren 11-yd pass from Milton (Campbell kick). UT 42, UVA 10.
UT (11:06) — Sampson 3-yd run (Campbell kick). UT 49, UVA 10.
UVA (0:39) — Bettridge 40-yd field goal. UT 49, UVA 13.

Player Stats


UVA: Perris Jones 7-39; Kobe Pace 7-39; Amaad Foston 3-18; Anthony Colandrea 2-17; Jack Griese 6-15; TEAM 2-(minus-3); Mike Hollins 3-(minus-7); Tony Muskett 10-(minus-23). TOTAL — 40-95.

UT: Jaylen Wright 12-115; Jabari Small 13-67; Dylan Sampson 13-52; Joe Milton III 9-33; Nico Iamaleava 1-8; Khalifa Keith 2-8; Cameron Seldon 2-4. TOTAL — 52-287.


UVA: Malachi Fields 4-63; Malik Washington 4-29; Suderian Harrison 1-11; Mike Hollins 1-2; Amaad Foston 1-1. TOTAL — 11-106.

UT: Ramel Keyton 3-66; Squirrel White 6-45; Bru McCoy 2-21; McCallan Castles 1-16; Jabari Small 3-13; Dont’e Thornton Jr. 2-12; Jacob Warren 1-11; Kaleb Webb 2-11; Dylan Sampson 1-9; Jaylen Wright 2-8. TOTAL — 14-208.


UVA: Tony Muskett 9-17-94-0-0; Anthony Colandrea 2-7-12-0-0. TOTAL — 11-24-106-0-0.

UT: Joe Milton III 21-30-201-2-0; Nico Iamaleava 2-3-11-0-0. TOTAL — 23-33-212-2-0.


The Cavaliers return to Scott Stadium for the home opener next Saturday at noon against James Madison.