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Tennessee falls to Pitt in Johnny Majors Classic, 41-34

Hendon Hooker replaced Joe Milton at quarterback, but Tennessee's comeback fell short.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Johnny Majors Classic lived up to its name. Classic. The Pitt Panthers downed the Tennessee Vols, 41-34, at Neyland Stadium on Saturday. The loss drops UT's record to 1-1.

Tennessee could not have started this game better. On the first play from scrimmage, defensive back Theo Jackson tackled Pitt wide receiver Jordan Addison for a four-yard loss. The Vols did not allow any yards on the next two plays, forcing the Panthers to punt. Then, freshman safety Christian Charles blocked that punt. Running back Jabari Small rushed for a two-yard touchdown on the next play. The Vols took a 10-0 lead into the second quarter.

On the first play of the second frame, Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett connected with wide receiver Melquise Stovall for an 11-yard touchdown. Tennessee answered with a field goal, extending their lead to 13-7. The Panthers responded with 13 consecutive points over the next 5:28 to take a 20-13 lead. Six of those points came on a trick play. Pickett passed the ball to wide receiver Jared Wayne, who threw a 16-yard strike to tight end Lucas Krull for the touchdown. 

Midway through the quarter, redshirt senior Hendon Hooker replaced Joe Milton at quarterback, after Milton took a hard hit on a sack-fumble. Hooker tied the game with a 44-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Jimmy Calloway. However, the Panthers retook the lead on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, taking a 27-20 lead into halftime.

With 4:49 remaining in the third quarter, Pickett scored on a quarterback sneak to extend Pitt’s lead to 34-20. Then, Hendon Hooker capped a six-play, 63-yard drive with a touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Warren. That lowered the Panthers’ lead to seven points, heading into the fourth quarter.

The back-and-forth scoring continued in the opening minutes of the final frame. Pickett connected with Addison for a five-yard touchdown. Hooker responded with a 34-yard pass to Warren, setting up a one-yard touchdown run from freshman running back Jaylen Wright. The freshman’s first career score made it 41-34, with 10:09 remaining.

Tennessee forced a three-and-out on Pitt’s ensuing drive. A pair of 15-yard penalties against the Panthers placed the Vols at the Pitt 12-yard line. Tennessee decided to go for it on fourth-and-one at the three-yard line. The Panthers swarmed Wright in the backfield for a turnover on downs. However, the UT defense forced a three-and-out and Pitt’s punt rolled out of bounds at their own 34-yard line. With 5:33 remaining, Tennessee had one more chance to tie the game. Then, Pitt safety Brandon Hill intercepted Hooker on the second play of the potential, game-tying drive. The Panthers ran out the rest of the clock.

Pickett completed 24 of his 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown. Wide receiver Taysir Mack led all pass catchers with 100 yards on four receptions. 

Pitt's defense sacked UT quarterbacks five times, including two fumbles. 

Hooker finished the game 15/21 for 189 yards and two touchdowns, after taking over for Joe Milton, who finished 7/12 for 50 yards. Hooker also rushed for 48 yards. 

Calloway led Vols receivers with 60 yards and a touchdown. Warren caught five passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.

The Vols were without last week's leading rusher, Tiyon Evans, as well as offensive lineman Cooper Mays, defensive tackle Latrell Bumphus and defensive end Byron Young.

Tennessee plays its third consecutive home game next week against Tennessee Tech.