All week long, Butch Jones preached to the Tennessee defense that they were up for a challenge facing yet another dual-threat quarterback in Fredi Knighten.

And the Volunteer defense stepped up, containing Arkansas State’s weapon under center while also only allowing one play over 20 yards.

Overall, the Tennessee defense held their opponent to 331 total yards on 78 plays from scrimmage in a 4.2 yard per play average.

Starting defensive tackle Owen Williams, along with the rest of the Vols’ defensive line, found success as they pressured Knighten for most of the game, creating three sacks and eight quarterback hurries.

While Knighten finished with 14 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown, the run defense only allowed 3.4 yards per carry to the Red Wolves and limited Knighten to only 12 rushing yards in the second half.

“We were able to generate some pressure and that was great to see,” Butch Jones said. “We really took away their run game. We knew it was going to be a lateral game and that they were going to try to get the ball on the outside of our defense. We knew that would be the game plan.”

Williams, however, was the star of Saturday’s defensive line.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 288-pound redshirt junior’s biggest highlight came when he closed out the third quarter on a loud note.

After the Red Wolves intercepted a pass from Worley, Williams bulldozed his way right through the offensive line to sack Knighten for a loss of nine yards.

He then finished with a three-and-out defensive stand by using his surprising quickness to hault Arkansas State well shy of the first down marker.

This season, the Tennessee defense has held the opposition to 7-of-31 (23 percent) on third-down conversions.

“It’s what we preached throughout the week,” sophomore defensive back Cameron Sutton said. “We want to get the ball back to our offense and put them in better field position. We know when our offense is clicking on all cylinders; they can put a lot of points on the board.”

The former junior college standout sacked Knighten again later in the third quarter as he tracked down the ASU junior signal caller from behind.

“He was definitely big today,” said starting linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who finished with six tackles and a sack. “He did a good job of chasing their quarterback. Guys think they can outrun defensive tackles, but Owen can go.”

Williams finished the contest with five tackles and a pass breakup to go along with his two sacks.

Safety surprise: The Vols once again called upon youthful talent to make their mark Saturday afternoon inside Neyland Stadium.

While Todd Kelly Jr. had an impressive debut the week before, including a couple of tackles and a recovered fumble on special teams, the legacy freshman made his first start at strong safety in place of a “nicked up” Brian Randolph.

“Todd Kelly Jr. had to step up in some critical moments and stressful situations,” Jones said. “That’s how you grow up and develop.”

Kelly finished his first start with five total tackles.

“Everything is a learning experience for them,” Jones said of his new teammates. “This is all foreign territory for them.”

Despite a sprained ankle suffered against Utah State, Randolph suited up for the Vols, but was only supposed to be used in an “emergency situation.”

And yet, when the UT defense stomped out for their second series of the day, Randolph was there playing alongside Kelly Jr.

“Brian worked himself and rehabilitated himself with rest and recovery and the sports science end of it to get himself ready to play,” Jones said. “He had some valuable reps today.”

Randolph finished the contest with six tackles and a pass breakup.

Hurdling the competition: A simple end-around play for Josh Smith in the first half turned into a highlight reel moment for the sophomore wide receiver.

The Knoxville native took a jet sweep to the right side, and while it looked like he was going nowhere, he displayed instinctiveness by hurdling an ASU defender and stretching the play into a 12-yard gain.

“I saw the defensive back and it was just something I liked to do in high school, so I just try to translate it to college,” Smith said. “It was there so I just took it.”

His teammate and fellow wide receiver Marquez North was impressed with Smith’s leaping ability.

“It was one of those ‘ooh’ moments,” North said. “We all know Josh had the ability to do that. I’ve seen him actually do that before in high school, so it wasn’t anything new. But you don’t see those type of plays that often, so it still got me a little bit.”

Smith finished the game with two catches for 29-yards to pair with his acrobatic run.