KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Justin Worley threw two touchdown passes to Marquez North and ran for a third score Saturday in Tennessee's 34-19 victory over Arkansas State.
Worley threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to North in the second quarter and found him again for a 14-yard score in the third period. Worley also scored from 5 yards out late in the first half for his first career touchdown run. He went 22 of 38 for 247 yards with one interception.
Fredi Knighten scored on a 4-yard run and threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Tres Houston for Arkansas State (1-1). The Red Wolves' other touchdown came on DeKeathan Williams' 24-yard run.
Tennessee is off to its fourth straight 2-0 start, though it has finished below .500 thus far in each year of that streak. Tennessee, which is trying to end a string of four straight losing seasons, plays at No. 4 Oklahoma next week.
Arkansas State has won a share of the last three Sun Belt titles, but it has struggled against major-conference teams such as Tennessee. In 45 attempts, the Red Wolves have never beaten an SEC team when it belonged to that conference, though the Red Wolves did beat Ole Miss in 1915 and Texas A&M in 2008 when those schools played in other leagues. Arkansas State's 18-14 victory over Texas A&M in its 2008 season opener represents its last victory over a team from the Power 5 conferences.
Tennessee was seeking to solidify its case that it had solved its problems against mobile quarterbacks, an issue that haunted the Vols last season. The Volunteers opened this season by containing Chuckie Keeton in a 38-7 victory over Utah State. Knighten's first carry went 12 yards, matching Keeton's entire rushing total againstTennessee.
Knighten's 4-yard touchdown run around the right end on Arkansas State's opening possession gave the Red Wolves an early 6-0 lead, as Luke Ferguson missed the extra-point attempt. Tennessee held him relatively in check from that point on. Knighten finished 21 of 34 for 166 yards and rushed for 65 yards on 14 carries.
Worley completed his first nine passes of the day as Tennessee recovered from that early 6-0 deficit by scoring 17 points on its next three drives.
The Vols cut the lead to 6-3 on an Aaron Medley 20-yard field goal that was set up by a 56-yard completion to Von Pearson, who headed to the locker room on crutches with an apparent ankle injury later in the first half. Jalen Hurd scored from 4 yards out to put Tennessee ahead for good later in the first quarter, then Worley's first touchdown pass to North made it 17-6 early in the second period.
On Tennessee's second touchdown drive, Worley went 3 of 3 for 51 yards in third-down situations.
Arkansas State threatened to get back into the game with trickery. Facing fourth-and-11 from their own 27, the Red Wolves faked a punt that resulted in a 24-yard completion from Ferguson to Chris Stone. Arkansas State converted a fourth-and-1 later in that drive and scored on Knighten's pass to Houston, though its two-point conversion attempt failed.
The Vols answered on their next possession with a 71-yard drive that ended in Worley's touchdown run.
Arkansas State continually hurt itself with mistakes. The Red Wolves were penalized nine times for 75 yards, with all of them coming in the first three quarters. Trailing 24-12 early in the third quarter, Arkansas State blew a shot at great field position when J.D. McKissic fumbled on a punt return at the Tennessee 36. On Tennessee's ensuing possession, Worley connected with North in the end zone again.