Hooker has won Tennessee trophy

Marvin Westwestwords

No Volunteer has won the Heisman Trophy but Hendon Hooker has earned the Tennessee version. If there was ever a race, it is over.

Decades ago, George Cafego was national runner-up for the Heisman. Hank Lauricella had his turn. John Majors finished second in national voting. Paul Hornung somehow got away with that prize even as Notre Dame won only two games.

Heath Shuler received serious consideration. Peyton Manning was very good but lost to ESPN. Joshua Dobbs won the 2016 Tennessee trophy. He got off to a 5-0 start.

Hooker and his associates are just 4-0 but he has an impressive collection of endorsements for what he did to Florida – 22-of-28 passing for 348 yards and two touchdowns, 112 rushing yards and another score.

“I told him on the field ‘You special,’” said running back Jabari Small. “It’s an honor playing with him. Great player.”

Josh Heupel showered Hooker with colorful words – warrior, fierce, relentless, Heisman.

The coach said if Hendon continues to play the way he is, and if the Vols win, he’ll get a lot of attention – deservedly so.

“He is special … good in the pass game, really good in the run game, decisive, controlled it … He was efficient and effective all night long.”

Senior writer David Ubben of The Athletic said, “The Vols have a quarterback on the Heisman short list.”

Teammates praised Hooker. Rivals conceded he is a winner. Hendon has remained humble.

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If you are into analytics, there are holes in the Florida defense.

Tennessee gained 413 yards on 16 chunk plays – passes 15 yards or longer or rushes of at least 10. There were egregious breakdowns, including two occasions when the Gators left receivers wide open for catches of 70 and 45 yards.

No Gator was within 15 yards of Bru McCoy when he caught his long ball.

The Vols also made some big mistakes.

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The Gators are off to an 0-2 start in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 1986. They have dropped six straight conference games dating back to Oct. 9 of last year against Vanderbilt.

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Aggressiveness is Billy Napier’s trademark, but the Florida coach has been calling for the Gators to cut down on undisciplined penalties. He got one for going too far onto the field to protest a delayed decision to review a run near the goal by Small.

It was half the distance to the goal, an inch or two, but an automatic first down. Small scored on the next play.

On Sunday the coach apologized to his players and Florida fans.

“I lost my poise. I didn’t represent my team. I didn’t represent the University of Florida the right way. I need to do better.”

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Anthony Richardson found solace in the fact the game wasn’t over until the final play, when Kamal Hadden intercepted his desperation throw with five or six Volunteers closing in.

“There were plenty of times we could have put our heads down and quit, but we kept fighting.”

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Florida lamented that no Gator was assigned to offset Hooker’s ability to scramble. He rushed for 112 net yards after sacks. Napier said part of what makes Hooker unique is his ability to escape.

“We had him dead to right a bunch.”

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Napier gambled in play-calling. The Gators made first downs on five of its six fourth-down tries. The coach was going for touchdowns because he didn’t believe field goals would win the game.

“Tennessee had scored 30 or more in eight or nine games in a row.”

Not so convincing were his two decisions to go for two after fourth-quarter touchdowns. Both failed. If Florida had kicked extra points, the score would have been 38-35 after the recovered onside kick. Overtime would have been a field goal away.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]

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