KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Joshua Dobbs connected with Josh Malone on two of his three touchdown passes and John Kelly scored on a 73-yard run Saturday as Tennessee snapped a three-game skid in a 55-0 blowout of Tennessee Tech.
The lopsided victory over a Football Championship Subdivision team followed a tumultuous period for Tennessee. The Volunteers fell 24-21 at two-touchdown underdog South Carolina last week, and Tennessee coach Butch Jones announced Monday that leading rusher Jalen Hurd had left the team.
Yet Jones insisted after the game that "there was no drama inside our building" this week even as the Vols encountered the most criticism they'd received all season.
"Our team was very focused," Jones said. There wasn't anything in our building in terms of distraction or clutter. That's why I'm proud of our players. They came every day, they worked extremely hard, they communicated. ... They were a very driven and a very focused football team."
Tennessee (6-3) ended a season-long pattern of slow starts by producing six touchdowns and one field goal on its first eight possessions. Dobbs completed his first 11 passes and ended up 12 of 13 for 183 yards before exiting midway through the second quarter.
The Volunteers had been outscored 83-24 in the opening quarter of their first eight games, but they led 21-0 after the first period. Tennessee extended the margin to 28-0 when Dobbs threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings on the opening play of the second quarter.
"It's something we've harped on all season, so it was good to come out and play fast at the beginning of the game and then sustain that throughout the first half," Dobbs said.
Tennessee's first two series ended with touchdown passes of 30 and 43 yards from Dobbs to Malone, who had five catches for a career-high 112 yards. Tennessee reached the end zone on each of its first four drives.
Kelly made his first career start and ran for 104 yards on just seven carries.
Kelly's 73-yard burst through the right side of the line in the first quarter was Tennessee's longest offensive play this season and its longest run from scrimmage since LaMarcus Coker's 87-yarder against Vanderbilt in 2006.
"They made those big plays early, and it put us in a hole," Tennessee Tech coach Marcus Satterfield said.
Carlin Fils-aime added two touchdown runs and Marquez Callaway scored on a 62-yard punt return as Tennessee recorded its biggest margin of victory since a 63-7 triumph over Western Kentucky in 2009.
Tennessee Tech received $475,000 for making the 100-mile trip from its Cookeville campus to Knoxville. The Golden Eagles (3-6) has never beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision team in 31 attempts.
Tennessee Tech: The Golden Eagles controlled the ball for over 41 minutes but still failed to score as they rushed for just 60 yards on 38 carries.
Tennessee: Kelly's productivity provided evidence that Tennessee's rushing attack will withstand the loss of Hurd.
Tennessee also finally protected the football. After throwing 11 interceptions and losing nine fumbles in its first eight games, Tennessee didn't commit a single turnover Saturday.
Tennessee Tech returns to FCS competition and visits Tennessee State next Saturday.
Tennessee hosts Kentucky next Saturday.