In a bitter memory that may stay awhile, Florida cuffed Tennessee around and caused considerable pain and suffering.
Thousands of orange fans were stunned. They had expected greatness. Some were angry. They lost money. Some lost confidence. They suddenly foresaw three or even four more losses.
Josh Heupel and the Volunteers did not accept that idea. They regrouped and responded with three-fourths of a resurrection game. Texas-San Antonio, without its primary quarterback, wasn’t very good but the 45-14 knockout counts.
It really was a re-start. It was a feel-good game. Fans were fantastic. They filled Neyland Stadium, tested the new wi-fi, spent a small fortune on snacks and souvenirs and stayed until dinnertime. Those who departed early undoubtedly thought victory was secure.
It wasn’t rock solid.
The Roadrunners made a strategic switch, scored two touchdowns and dominated the third quarter. They reduced the deficit from 31 at halftime to 17. Third-string QB Owen McCown completed 18 of 20 for 170 yards.
Tennessee eventually restored order but the children didn’t get to play all that much. Nico appeared to warm applause. Nothing happened. It wasn’t all his fault. An obvious facemask foul was overlooked.
Joe Milton III was the star. He set the tone on the first play, an 81-yard touchdown run, longest by a Tennessee quarterback.
“I did feel faster,” he said.
Joe was close to spectacular in building a 31-0 first-half lead. He started 14-of-16. The Vols gained 359 yards before the rest stop.
Dylan Sampson was star No. 2. He ended the evening with a career-best 139 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Redshirt freshman Kaleb Webb wasn’t even in the UTSA scouting report but he caught an 18-yard TD pass, a nifty play, stop and go with a hitch and slant for his third career catch and first score.
Ramel Keyton caught a 48-yarder. He looked a lot faster than Milton.
“The first half, starting fast, being efficient, blocking well, big runs,” said Heupel. “Joe obviously starts the game with a huge play off of his read key. We were efficient in the pass game, too.”
The third quarter defies description. I’ll try. Contrary to rumor, defensive backs were in attendance. McCown just had a hot streak, 10 of 11. Among his accomplishments was a short throw to Tykee Ogle-Kellogg. The receiver from Alcoa ran for a 43-yard touchdown. He said how much fun it was to visit the big ball park and have family and friends cheering for him.
Milton, meanwhile, went cheerless. He lost his touch. His cold streak was 11 of 12 – incompletions.
In the fourth, McCown was intercepted by Warren Burrell. Milton’s aim improved. Jabari Small scored a touchdown. Focus switched to South Carolina and the forthcoming Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium, Smokey barking, fireworks, blinking lights, the whole show.
There was a time when most everybody thought Tennessee would extract a measure of revenge for the way the Gamecocks misbehaved last November – as in 63 points, 35 first downs, 606 yards of offense.
Oh my, it was bad. Spencer Rattler did the unthinkable – six touchdown passes.
Could South Carolina do it again? The Gamecocks played much better at Georgia than Tennessee performed at Florida.
Against Mississippi State, South Carolina’s defense sprung a leak and the offensive line left Rattler to run for his life. He runs well. He also throws well, as in 18 hits on 20 passes for 288 yards. Xavier Legette caught five for 189 and two touchdowns. Don’t be surprised if some Vol defensive backs call in sick.
No DBs are currently on the injured list but some other big names are listed as handle with care. Milton suffered a twisted knee and played the second half with a brace. Jaylen Wright ran four times for 16 yards and went away. Receiver Bru McCoy, linebacker Aaron Beasley. offensive tackle John Campbell and defensive lineman Dominic Bailey left the fray and didn’t return.
Center Cooper Mays is alive. He warmed up with the team the past two Saturdays. He decided he was unfit for combat. That is his obligation, tell it like it is. Could be the warmups were just ornamental.
For some reason, Tennessee opened as 11-point favorite.
Good news: Tamarion McDonald nabbed his fourth-career interception in the second quarter. Jackson Ross punted six times for a 44.3 average. Vols had fewer missed tackles, 10, down from 17. Vols had fewer penalties, five down from 10.
Yardstick: Milton’s long run was one short step longer than what Jimmy Streater did on September 10, 1977, against California. The Sylva Streak electrified the capacity crowd with an 80-yard touchdown run.
If you are interested only in fast quarterbacks, neither Peyton Manning nor Dewey Warren is on the list.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.