Inspired Volunteers wallop Wildcats

Marvin Westwestwords

Here are headlines:

  • Vols clobber Wildcats
  • Tennessee defense dominates
  • Hyatt sets touchdown record
  • Kentucky loses comparison of quarterbacks
  • Moment of truth: Tennessee at Georgia

Undefeated Tennessee, favored by 11.6 points, wildly exceeded expectations. Saturday night was party time at colorful Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers clobbered the Wildcats, 44-6. There were two shocking developments. Defense dominated. The clash was so one-sided, Kentucky seemingly lost interest.

Here’s another measurement: The game wasn’t as close as the score.

Here’s some sarcasm: Apparently black uniforms caused no problems.

Hendon Hooker looked very much like a Heisman Trophy possibility. Jalin Hyatt set a Tennessee record with his 13th and 14th touchdown receptions of the season. Juwan MitchellBrandon Turnage and Doneiko Slaughter had their first interceptions as Volunteers.

Slaughter earned an assist on Mitchell’s pick. A Wildcat caught the pass. Slaughter knocked it loose. Mitchell rebounded and ran away, 48 yards.

Hyatt was the big gainer – touchdowns of 55 and 31 yards, five catches for 138 total. He broke the UT single-season TD record of 13 set by Marcus Nash in 1997.

Hyatt’s second touchdown was set up by a Paxton Brooks punt that stopped near the goal. The Vols got a stop. Kentucky’s punt, tipped by Kalib Perry, gave Tennessee a short field. Confusion among Wildcat defensive backs left the star Vol wild open. Hooker was spot-on. Two-play drive, 15 seconds, followed by intermission.

The Hyatt outburst started against LSU. He got five against Alabama. Josh Heupel was asked if he was surprised.

“We thought he would perform at a really high level. I said that at the beginning of the season. He’s been great in everything that we’re asking him to do. Would I say I saw him breaking the school record? I didn’t know what the number was. I don’t think you ever think about those things.

“You just think about the player. He’s had good opportunities but he’s been prepared to take advantage of those opportunities at a really high level.”

Jabari Small caught a TD pass. Hooker, Princeton Fant and Jaylen Wright ran for touchdowns. Chase McGrath kicked a field goal and five extra points. He missed a point-after and a makeable field goal.

There were other highlights. Dee Williams had a 34-yard punt return. Brooks punts were downed at the 2 and 3. Da’Jon Terry got a hand on Kentucky’s extra-point try. Cedric Tillman, he of the bad ankle, returned to action and caught four passes for 22 yards. Heupel borrowed a baseball term. He said Ced was on a pitch count.

Jaylen McCollough played, made four tackles and broke up a pass. He has been sidelined because of legal complications.

“Did a great job. He’s a leader on our defense, a quarterback in some respects. It was awesome to have him back out there for us,” said Heupel.

What Tennessee’s defense did to Kentucky quarterback Will Levis must have confused NFL scouts. He threw for 98 yards, second lowest of his games as a starter. In addition to the three picks and four sacks, he was often under pressure.

Tennessee won a unanimous decision at the line of scrimmage.

Kentucky was limited to one scoring drive (Chris Rodriguez got the points) and one threat. The Vols more than doubled the Wildcats’ offensive output.

Rodriguez totaled 64 yards rushing. He and Kentucky did almost nothing in the second half.

An afternoon of truth is upcoming in the Southeastern Conference. Third-ranked Tennessee next plays at top-ranked Georgia. There is no indication the Vols are scared. They are saying what Heupel says, preparation and consistency are the keys.

The coach said he never worried that the Vols would overlook the Wildcats.

”The reason we found a way to be on the right side of it every week is because these guys have been focused. They prepare, they practice and they get themselves ready, emotionally and physically, to go play hard.

“All week long I thought we were very dialed in, locked into the process. Good teams get better throughout the season.”

Outlook for Georgia?

“Certainly going to be a big ballgame. Great football team. These are the type of games you come to Tennessee to play. Because you want to be on this type of stage. You want to play in front of an audience that is going to be captivated by these two football teams.”

Not incidentally, there was a crowd of 2023 and 2024 prospects in the big building. Recruits almost had to be impressed by the show.

As usual, Heupel recognized fan assistance.

“Great day in Knoxville. The atmosphere, Vol Walk, the energy inside the stadium well before our guys even came out was awesome … The atmosphere all night long was just an advantage for us. So, thank you to the fans.”

The coach said the defense did an unbelievable job, played real ball, suffocating defense.

“It was fun to watch those guys. “Offensively, we did enough to score enough points to get a good win.”

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

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