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Why Mike Matthews left the Orange & White Game early after his 63-yard touchdown catch

IMG_3593by:Grant Ramey04/14/24


Tennessee Football 2-minute Drill Reacting To Orange & White Spring Game I Volquest I Gbo

Mike Matthews was five yards behind the nearest defender Saturday afternoon during the Orange & White Game at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee’s five-star freshman wide receiver watched the ball over his right shoulder, then threw his hands up at the last minute, bending back to make the catch.

From there, Matthews ran uncontested the final 25 yards of the 63-yard touchdown catch from backup quarterback Gaston Moore to tie the game at 14-14 late in the first half. 

“That play,” Moore said afterward, “we only had a little bit of time left before halftime and Coach (Heupel) called a shot down the field. I just went through my progressions and I saw the safety stepped down low and Mike Matthews was on top of his defender. 

“I just threw it up to him. He made a great adjustment on catching the ball.”

Mike Matthews: 5-Star WR, ranked No. 26 overall in 2024 recruiting class

There was another adjustment made in the the fourth quarter, with Matthews again running free toward the north end zone. This time, though, Matthews was headed on the sideline and headed toward Tennessee’s locker room.

His next stop? His senior prom Saturday night at Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia, approximately 230 miles south of Neyland Stadium. That’s why Matthews, who enrolled early at Tennessee back in December, leaving high school in the middle of his senior year, wasn’t around postgame to talk about his touchdown catch. 

His teammates and head coach did the talking for him after the Orange team won the split-squad scrimmage 21-14.

“He’s a guy that goes about his business every day and competes extremely hard,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said during his press conference after the game, “playing without the ball in his hands. He’s got a high-competitive care factor, makeup.”

Nico Iamaleava: ‘He can go up and get the ball at a high level’

Matthews wasn’t the only new wide receiver making splash plays Saturday. Chris Brazzell II, the Tulane transfer, caught four passes for 89 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown early in the third quarter from freshman quarterback Jake Merklinger.

Matthews was the headliner in Tennessee’s 2024 recruiting class, signing with the Vols as as a five-star wide prospect ranked No. 26 overall. He was the No. 6 wide receiver nationally and the No. 4 overall prospect in Georgia.

Nico Iamaleava said Saturday afternoon that his biggest takeaway from his first spring with Matthews was his catch radius — not something seen often from players making their college football debuts.

But it’s nothing the Vols weren’t ready for. 

“He can go up and get the ball at a high,” Iamaleava said. “As you know, it’s rare seeing that from young guys coming in, but I think Mike Matthews, him coming in, I think we’ve expected that of him. And he’s showing that every day in spring.”

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