KNOXVILLE, Tenn – If you were wondering if Tennessee was looking ahead to Georgia, that notion was quickly put to rest. After a dominant first half against Kentucky, Hendon Hooker and the Vols set an early tone, never looking back. Tennessee dominated Kentucky to the tune of a 44-6 drubbing.
On the fifth play of the game, Hendon Hooker hit Jalin Hyatt down the sideline for the 55-yard touchdown. The tone had been set and the Vols were off to the races. Even though Chris Rodriguez was running with a purpose, the Vols shutdown the rushing attack, only allowing 64 yards from the star back.
Tennessee Offense Is Just Different
If you wanted a clear definition of the Tennessee (8-0, 5-0) football program, the ending of the first half presented the answer. Taking just 15 seconds for the Vols to add another touchdown to the board before halftime, as Hendon Hooker hit Jalin Hyatt down the sideline for the TD. Leading 27-6 at halftime, it was obvious that the Vols were playing on a different level.
Hooker finished the game with 268 total yards and three touchdowns, keeping his Heisman hopes alive.
Not only was the offense rolling, but the Vols defense held Will Levis to 98 yards passing and Kentucky to only 107 yards rushing.
It’s hard to put into words what this Tennessee team is fully capable of, but the perfect phrase would be ‘controlled chaos’. Before they knew it on Saturday night, Kentucky was in a hole they wouldn’t be able to crawl their way out of. This is the same story, different game.
Whether it be through the air or on the ground, Tennessee is an offensive machine that humbled another Top 25 team this season. The return of WR Cedric Tillman helped, as Hooker hit him twice on the opening drive. But this is just another example of how dangerous this Josh Heupel offense is at the moment.
At the start of the third quarter, Tennessee had four different players with touchdowns. Kentucky only had six total yards of offense in the third quarter. The return of Jaylen McCollough was key in the secondary, as the defensive play caller returned from suspension.
“Did a great job, he’s a leader on our defense, quarterback in some respects. It was awesome to have him back out there with us,” Josh Heupel said postgame about McCollough.
Also, the benefit of having a defense that will bend but not break is beneficial. Sure, they aren’t perfect, but as a team they’ve figured out ways to shutdown the opposing team in critical times. The Juwan Mitchell interception proved this point.
It’s Time For The SEC East Showdown
Now it’s time for the biggest game of the college football season. There’s no way to hype this any further than what it organically do itself. Tennessee and Georgia will face-off next week in Athens, with the SEC East on the line. Yes, both teams have other games, but this one should most likely decide who plays in Atlanta.
When these two teams meet next week inside Sanford Stadium, it will be for the number one spot in the country. For all the people wondering how long this Tennessee team could keep this up on offense, tonight is further proof.
“The reason we won is because they prepare, practice, get themselves ready emotionally and physically. They were locked in all week throughout the process,” Josh Heupel said about his team’s mentality.
Having now played eight different opponents, the Vols have found different ways to beat each team.
There’s not one single aspect of Tennessee’s offense that you can focus on. No matter if it’s Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman or Bru McCoy, more than likely one of them is open on every play. This team has once again proved that they can ignore the outside noise, with the game against Georgia being discussed this past week.
Tennessee is on a mission to continue defying logic on how they got to this point, just 21 games into the Heupel era. As the Vols went up 37-6 in the third quarter, it was clear there wasn’t a desire to hit the brakes, the Vols were out to prove a point. The Vols are a dominant team in college football, end of discussion.
Josh Heupel was asked after the game about how they’ve gotten to this point, not even two full seasons into his tenure.
“You start a journey and understand what type of team you wanna build. These group of individuals are the one’s who chose to stay. They care about each other.”
Now comes the biggest test of the season, which was Alabama two weeks ago. Not only is Tennessee up for the challenge, they’ve shown us all that they could be the No.1 team in the country come next Sunday.
Let the buildup begin, just don’t expect Tennessee to pay much attention.