Where to from here, Volunteers?

Marvin Westwestwords

Never, in the remarkable history of Tennessee football, has a Volunteer accomplished what Jalin Hyatt did to Alabama. He caught six passes and turned five into touchdowns.

It must have been shocking to defensive backs who didn’t get close enough to tag Hyatt, much less tackle him.

The Tennessee single-game record was three. Five is the SEC record. DeVonta Smith, as an Alabama receiver, scored five against Ole Miss in 2019. Earl Bennett of Vanderbilt got five versus Kentucky in 2005. The NCAA record is seven by Oklahoma State’s Rashaun Woods in 2003.

Hyatt would have you believe he played a relatively minor role. He praised Hendon Hooker and the offensive line. He praised other receivers and the routes they ran. He recognized what coaches did, their response to “the looks, what Alabama was showing us.”

What coaches saw in defensive alignments, what they thought would work, what they did on one play to set up the next fit together. Some of that was a payoff on accumulated knowledge, some on detailed game-planning, some on precision practice, a Josh Heupel trademark.

“We knew coming into the game that we could execute certain big plays,” said Hyatt.

Jalin had no idea he would get five touchdowns.

“That’s a lot.”

In the previous six games, Alabama had allowed 75 points. It had given up six pass plays of 30 or more yards. Nothing had gone for more than 40. In the third quarter, Hyatt stretched a go-route for a 60-yard touchdown. In the fourth, he ran a post, broke a shoestring tackle and ran for 78.

“It was a lot of things,” Hyatt said. “Me and Hook, we were on the right page as far as what we were looking at. Not only that, just him trusting me – I’m just blessed. This is what we needed. It’d been a while since we beat Bama, so I’m glad we got the win.”

Hyatt has 10 touchdowns. He had two in each of his first two seasons at UT.

This is a different player. Heupel says then and now is a story.

“He wanted to be a great player. You’ve heard me say it – he’s worked to be a great player this year. Preparation meets opportunity, you’re ready to go smash it. Tonight, he had opportunities and he played really good football. Really special what he did.”

Hyatt was disappointed in his sophomore season. He finally realized he brought it on himself. He says he didn’t work as hard as he should have. He started over. He tried to copy the dedication of Hooker and Cedric Tillman. He has a reminder from last year’s Alabama game.

“It was the fourth quarter, three- or four-minutes left, and you could already smell the smoke. They lit it up before we even ended the game.”

Not this time.

At the post-game press conference are kicker Chase McGrath, receiver Jalin Hyatt, QB Hendon Hooker and DB Trevon Flowers.

Where to from here, Volunteers?

Nick Saban told his team the loss to Tennessee was not the end of the world, that preseason goals are still attainable. All the Tide has to do is win the West and move on from there.

Alabama players said they’d see Tennessee a little later if the Volunteers get to Atlanta. They don’t think that will happen. Georgia blocks the way with home-field advantage. Kentucky will be hungry for revenge for last season.

Ex-Vol Henry To’o To’o, defensive leader for the Tide, was diplomatic.

“Congratulations to them. They played hard. We didn’t execute. Shot ourselves in the foot the whole game. Just got to clean it up.”

Asked about Hooker’s throw to set up winning field goal, To’o To’o said “Quarterback threw a great ball. Just got to cover. Got to put pressure on the quarterback, the front seven. And just got to do a better job overall.”

Asked about outlook, Henry echoed Saban.

“Season’s not done. We’ve got a long season left. We’ll see them again.”

Asked if this loss hurts personally, To’o To’o sounded like a broken record.

“We’ll see them again. We’ll see them again.”

***

Numbers please: 52 points and 17 infractions were the most of the Saban era … before that, Alabama yielded 78 points to Vandy in 1906, 54 to Sewanee in 1907 and 53 to Auburn in 1900 … Tennessee is the new next.

Hyatt’s 207 receiving yards were sixth most for Tennessee … Kelly Washington had 256 against LSU in 2001 … Tillman is counting down the days until Oct. 29 … doctors think he’ll be ready to contribute against Kentucky.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is marvinwest75[email protected]

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