Josh Heupel and the undefeated Volunteers didn’t go too far out of their way to show brotherly love to the Martin branch of the University of Tennessee system.
Hendon Hooker played less than a half. Jalin Hyatt caught only two touchdown passes. Chase McGrath kicked 10 points but none made a major difference. Noise was not a factor. Young players got considerable experience.
The nationally ranked team racked up 696 yards. It could have gained more. The net result was an old-fashioned romp, 65-24. It was borderline boring. None of the sold-out homecoming crowd, 101,915, stormed the field. Goal posts were not threatened.
Hooker played long enough to retain his position in the Heisman Trophy race. His stats were 18 of 24 for 276 and three TDs. He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 19 consecutive games. On the last play of the first quarter, he broke Heath Shuler’s school record from 1992-94.
The Skyhawks got their feelings hurt in the second quarter. Tennessee scored 31 points. The touchdown just before intermission was a very rude trick. Sub quarterback Joe Milton threw a lateral pass to Princeton Fant who threw a very long pass to Hyatt. The play was 66 yards.
One Martin fan asked “Why would they do that?”
Answer: Because they could.
Fant, a high school running back before he became a college tight end before he became a multi-talented surprise package, said “Coach knew I could throw the ball.”
Fant also ran for two touchdowns. Jabari Small and Dylan Sampson ran for one each. Ramel Keyton caught two touchdown passes. Squirrel White had five receptions for 122 yards and one score. Hyatt caught seven for 174. He is one TD catch from tying Marcus Nash’s school record of 13 set in 1997.
Tennessee scored 52 in the first half, a school record. Later, it was willing to run some clock until Martin put eight defenders up close and essentially shut down the running game. Heupel called for a bomb just to get Martin’s attention – Milton to the run-away Squirrel for 64.
There were other incidents of note – an interception by walk-on cornerback William Wright, a 33-yard punt return by Dee Williams and a fumble recovery by Aaron Beasley.
Martin quarterback Dresser Winn threw for more yards than Hooker but took twice as long to do it. George Qualls caught two TD passes.
Heupel never misses an opportunity to praise Tennessee paying customers.
“Obviously a great environment for the football game. Great opportunity to celebrate homecoming, welcome back so many.”
Some had worried about a hangover from the victory over Alabama. Not the coach.
“I thought our guys prepared the right way. I didn’t think our young guys performed the way they’re capable of. We talked about everyone taking a step forward.”
William Wright, the walk-on defensive back, earned warm words from Heupel with the interception.
“Awesome for him. He’s paid the price, overcame some adversity.”
When Wright was injured, he invested his time in getting better mentally even when he couldn’t get on the field. The coach said it was a great lesson for others.
“He did a lot of good things today. Obviously that pick, at that moment in the game, was a momentum-turner.”
Wright made a key stop in the Alabama game – just before the Tide missed the field goal.
The Milton to Fant to Hyatt touchdown did not surprise Heupel. The coach discovered during the summer that it was possible.
“Even last year, we knew he could throw it. This was a special throw. They were bringing pressure. He got the ball out of his hands quickly. The throw was accurate. Big play.”
It was fun.
UT-Martin thought it was a little much, considering the score was already 44-7.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected]