KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee finally ended its pattern of slow starts.
The Volunteers hope that sets the tone for a fast finish.
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 Football Championship Subdivision program Tennessee Tech. The Volunteers produced six touchdowns and one field goal in their first eight possessions and posted their largest margin of victory since a 63-7 triumph over Western Kentucky in 2009.
"It's something we've harped on all season," Dobbs said of the slow starts. "So it was good to come out and play fast at the beginning of the game and then sustain that throughout the first half and throughout the entire game, really."
The lopsided victory followed a tumultuous stretch for Tennessee (6-3). 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 bounced back from their lowest point of the season.
"Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they came in with a mental focus and mindset to get better and improve," Jones said. "I thought our energy was outstanding."
Dobbs completed his first 11 passes and ended up 12 of 13 for 183 yards before exiting with about five minutes left in the second quarter.
The Vols 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.
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.
"They made those big plays early," Tennessee Tech coach Marcus Satterfield said. "That really put us in a hole."
Kelly made his first career start and ran for 104 yards on just seven carries against Tennessee Tech (3-6). His 73-yard burst through the right side of the line in the first quarter was Tennessee's longest run from scrimmage since LaMarcus Coker's 87-yarder against Vanderbilt in 2006.
Carlin Fils-aime added two touchdown runs and Marquez Callaway scored on a 62-yard punt return for Tennessee.
Tennessee had additional reason to celebrate Saturday because No. 10 Florida lost 31-10 at Arkansas. The Vols can capture their first SEC East title since 2007 if they win out and Florida loses at least one more conference game.
"That's one of the most spirited celebrations we've had in our locker room," Jones said. "I think that's a by-product and that's all relative to the investment of everybody in our football program this week."
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.
The campuses of Tennessee and Tennessee Tech are separated by only about 100 miles, but this marked the first meeting between the two teams since 1951. Tennessee has won all six matchups with Tennessee Tech and has outscored the Golden Eagles 297-20.
Tennessee Tech received $475,000 for making the trip from its Cookeville campus to Knoxville for Saturday's game.
Tennessee Tech has never beaten an FBS team in 31 attempts. ... This was Tennessee's largest margin of victory in a shutout since a 65-0 victory over Vanderbilt in 1994.
Tennessee Tech returns to FCS competition and visits Tennessee State next Saturday.
Tennessee hosts Kentucky next Saturday.
More AP college football at www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.
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