In the 26 all-time meetings between women’s basketball powerhouses, the Tennessee Volunteers’ largest margin of victory over the UConn Huskies was 15 points in 1998. After duking it out on the gridiron at Neyland Stadium for the first time ever, No. 17 Tennessee nearly quadrupled that margin over a 1-7 UConn football team that competed with nothing to lose.
Down 7-0 and forcing a punt six minutes in, the Huskies marched down the field behind a lateral that set up a 34-yard connection between redshirt junior quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson and graduate wide receiver Brett Buckman. One yard shy of the end zone, Connecticut could not find paydirt and ultimately settled on Noe Ruelas’ 22-yard field goal, which made it 7-3 with 2:47 remaining in the first quarter.
Nearly fazed in front of a sellout crowd of over 100,000, the Volunteers rattled off 52 unanswered points and recorded three defensive touchdowns for the first time in school history in a 59-3 victory at Rocky Top. Although the Huskies suffered their worst defeat of the season and fell by more than 50 for the first time since losing against the then-No. 4 Michigan Wolverines last year, head coach Jim Mora praised his team’s behavior even when things got tense.
“It was a tough game,” Mora said afterward. “I am proud of our guys for the class that they showed on that football field before, during and after the game.”
Tennessee responded 61 seconds after that field goal, swiftly grabbing a 14-3 advantage when quarterback Joe Milton III found wide receiver Ramel Keyton open for a 60-yard receiving touchdown. Wide receivers Geordon Porter and Cam Ross kept UConn’s offense moving on their ensuing possession, but despite crossing midfield for the second straight drive, the vaunted Volunteers’ defense capitalized on an intentional grounding penalty and forced a turnover on downs. Milton III twice made the Huskies pay for not scoring, taking it upon himself for six on the ensuing possession and finding sophomore wide receiver Squirrel White open for an 83-yard touchdown on his next passing attempt.
Ahead 28-3 with 4:34 left in the half, the Tennessee defense took the scoring baton from their offense and further humiliated the Huskies. Roberson found Porter for a five-yard connection on first-and-10 with 3:40 remaining, but defensive back Gabe Jeudy-Lally forced his first career fumble that Tyler Baron recovered. The senior defensive lineman took the ball 24 yards to the house for the Volunteers’ first fumble-six since 2020 and a 35-3 lead at the half.
Halftime simply delayed Tennessee’s defense from doing damage. Out of the five passes that Roberson attempted on UConn’s first two second-half drives, two of them resulted in a Volunteers pick-six, marking the first time that happened in one game for Tennessee since 2013. Not even 10 seconds into the third quarter, defensive back Jaylen McCollough snatched a pass intended for Buckman and took it 30 yards for his first career pick-six. Three minutes later, linebacker Aaron Beasley got in front of Ross for his first interception and defensive touchdown of his five-year tenure in Knoxville.
Not even a change under center slowed the Volunteers down. Five-star freshman and No. 2 recruit Nico Iamaleava entered when Tennessee’s offense took the field five minutes into the second half, immediately recording his first career completed pass and collecting his first collegiate touchdown in eight plays. Pushed around for 2.5 quarters and down 56-3, the Huskies’ offense started rolling on their next possession in the hopes of scoring a touchdown in their 18th consecutive contest.
Even though an illegal block penalty pushed them back, UConn gradually marched down the field with a mix of small plays and the Volunteers’ defensive penalties that kept the drive alive. Roberson led the offense as far as Tennessee’s 12-yard line, but after running back Cam Edwards collected a yard on the ground, Roberson threw three straight incompletions that ended the possession.
Redshirt junior Gaston Moore took over at quarterback for Tennessee with 10:15 left in the game following punts from both teams, shaving two minutes off the clock as Knoxville native Josh Turbyville finished off the homecoming festivities with his first career field goal. The Volunteers nearly tacked on their season-best ninth touchdown of the game when they got down to their opponent’s three-yard line, but the clock ran out before they could cross the 60-point mark for the first time in almost a year.
Tennessee held the edge in almost every statistical category, outgaining the Huskies on the ground 275-35, scoring on six of their 10 offensive possessions and racking up 13 tackles for a loss. Edwards and running back Jalen Mitchell combined for 49 net rushing yards while tight end Justin Joly had 89 receiving yards on eight catches. The Volunteers’ defense alone outscored Connecticut 21-3.
Linebacker Jackson Mitchell and sophomore defensive back Lee Molette III each had eight total tackles while Illinois transfer Raashaan Wilkins Jr. recorded his first sack as a Husky. Despite two interceptions that resulted in Tennessee’s first defensive touchdowns since Sept. 30, Mora saw positives from Roberson’s second straight start against Power 5 competition.
“There was no hesitation in where he was trying to go with the ball and you see his arm talent,” Mora noted about the redshirt junior quarterback, who finished with 218 passing yards. “Sometimes struggling through a tough day against a really good defense is when you grow the most.”
Whether the growing pains of facing an SEC defense yield results remains in the air, especially with a Group of Five opponent that has surrendered less than 20 points per game looming on the horizon. UConn’s three-game road trip concludes at a venue four times smaller than Neyland Stadium, but against a former FCS program that has seen instant FBS success in the 9-0 James Madison Dukes on Saturday. Kickoff from Harrisonburg, Virginia commences at 2 p.m. on ESPN+.