Dec 30, 2022; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Bru McCoy (15) scores a touchdown past Clemson Tigers cornerback Jeadyn Lukus (10) during the first half of the 2022 Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Milton III’s 3 TDs lead No. 6 Tennessee past No. 7 Clemson in Orange Bowl

Joe Milton III passed for 251 yards and three touchdowns to lead No. 6 Tennessee to a 31-14 victory over No. 7 Clemson on Friday night in the Orange Bowl at Miami Gardens, Fla.

Squirrel White caught nine passes for 108 yards and one touchdown and Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton also had scoring receptions for the Volunteers (11-2). Jabari Small rushed for a touchdown while Aaron Beasley and Byron Young each had two sacks as Tennessee achieved its first 11-win season since 2001.

Clemson’s Cade Klubnik was 30-of-54 passing for 320 yards and two interceptions and also rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown in his first career start. Joseph Ngata had eight catches for 84 yards for the Tigers (11-3).

Milton completed 19 of 28 passes in his second start since star Hendon Hooker tore the ACL in his left knee against South Carolina on Nov. 19.

The Volunteers held a 21-6 lead after Milton tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to White with five seconds left in the third quarter.

Clemson took over and finally found the end zone on its 11th possession of the contest. The Tigers drove 71 yards on 12 plays with Klubnik scoring on a 4-yard run and Will Shipley adding a two-point run to pull within seven with 10:01 remaining in the game.

But Tennessee wasted no time answering back as Milton threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Keyton. That capped a six-play, 75-yard drive that gave the Volunteers a 28-14 advantage with 8:34 left.

Chase McGrath booted a 32-yard field goal with 3:07 remaining as Tennessee finished off the triumph.

The Volunteers led 14-3 at halftime despite being outgained 273-191.

Clemson was unable to finish first-half drives and B.T. Potter missed three field goals — he was wide right from 55 and 49 yards and wide left from 42.

The Volunteers struck first when Milton tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to McCoy with 5:17 left in the first quarter.

Tennessee made it 14-0 after Milton’s 50-yard connection to White moved the ball to the Clemson 2-yard line. Small ran in on the next play with 9:03 left in the half.

Potter’s fourth field-goal attempt of the half slid inside the left upright to get the Tigers on the board with 5:11 remaining.

Potter booted a 40-yard field goal with 10:57 remaining in the third quarter. It was his 73rd career make, surpassing Nelson Welch (72 from 1991-94) for most in Clemson history.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Joe Milton III (7) rolls out to pass against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first half at FirstBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

No. 10 Tennessee uses ground game to demolish Vanderbilt

Jaylen Wright ran for 160 yards and two touchdowns on only five carries to help No. 10 Tennessee close its regular season with a 56-0 rout of host Vanderbilt on Saturday night in Nashville, Tenn.

The victory, coupled with multiple upsets of teams ranked ahead of the Volunteers (10-2, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) in the College Football Playoff poll, could put them in a better position to land a New Year’s Six Bowl or even keep very slim hopes of making the CFP alive.

The Commodores (5-7, 2-6) lost to Tennessee for the fourth consecutive time.

Most of Wright’s yards came on touchdown runs of 83 and 50 yards.

Jabari Small also scored two touchdowns and ran for 79 yards on 11 carries as the Volunteers leaned heavily on their running game in the absence of injured starter Hendon Hooker, who was lost for the season last week with a torn ACL.

Joe Milton III, who completed 11 of 21 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, started and connected with Jalin Hyatt for 61 yards to the Vanderbilt 3-yard line on the third play of the game. The play set up a short touchdown run by Small on the ensuing play.

Even with three offensive linemen injured, the Volunteers ran for 362 yards. Dylan Sampson contributed 131 yards on 12 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Even tight end Princeton Fant found his way into the end zone running the ball with a 1-yard dive into the end zone late in the first quarter.

Dee Williams made an impact on special teams when he fielded a punt and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown to put the Vols ahead 21-0 with 8:09 left in the first half.

AJ Swann played for the first time since Nov. 5 and replaced starter Mike Wright at quarterback on Vanderbilt’s third drive of the second half after Wright completed only 7 of 13 passes for 28 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Swann didn’t have any more success, as he completed 11 of 17 passes for 79 yards. Ray Davis ran for 60 yards and Wright totaled 50 rushing yards.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2022; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Jaheim Bell (0) drops a pass against Tennessee Volunteers defensive back Brandon Turnage (8) in the second quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Spencer Rattler throws for 6 TDs, South Carolina trounces No. 5 Tennessee

Spencer Rattler established career bests of 438 yards and six touchdowns as South Carolina delivered a likely fatal blow to Tennessee’s College Football Playoff hopes with a 63-38 thumping of the No. 5 Volunteers on Saturday night in Southeastern Conference play at Columbia, S.C.

Rattler also set a Gamecocks single-game record for touchdown passes while completing 30 of 37 throws.

Antwane Wells Jr. caught 11 passes for 177 yards and also rushed for a touchdown for South Carolina (7-4, 4-4 SEC). Dakereon Joyner rushed for two touchdowns, Jaheim Bell and Josh Vann each caught two touchdown passes and Jalen Brooks and Juju McDowell also had scoring catches for the Gamecocks.

Heisman Trophy candidate Hendon Hooker was 25-of-42 passing for 247 yards and three touchdowns before leaving with a left knee injury for Tennessee (9-2, 5-2). The Volunteers were outside the CFP top four teams prior to the beating and figure to spiral down the next rankings on Tuesday.

Cedric Tillman caught two touchdowns for Tennessee, including one from backup Joe Milton III. Bru McCoy and Princeton Fant also caught scoring passes and Jabari Small rushed for a touchdown.

South Carolina’s point total was its highest against an SEC opponent since a 65-39 victory over Mississippi State in 1995. The Gamecocks outgained the Volunteers 606 to 507.

Tennessee trailed by 18 late in the first half but moved within 35-31 on Hooker’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Fant with 9:53 left in the third quarter before the Gamecocks answered with four consecutive touchdowns.

Wells scored on a 3-yard run with 5:03 remaining in the period and Rattler threw a 2-yard scoring pass to Bell to make it 49-31 with 11:41 remaining in the contest.

Hooker lost a fumble on the play in which he was injured, and Jordan Burch recovered at the Tennessee 17-yard line with 11:28 left. Just over two minutes later, Joyner scored from the 3 to make it 56-31 with 9:26 to play.

Rattler punctuated the win with a 20-yard scoring pass to Brooks with 2:06 remaining.

Rattler passed for 264 yards and four touchdowns as South Carolina led 35-24 at the break.

Rattler threw touchdown passes of 19 yards to Bell, 60 yards to Vann and 11 to McDowell in a first quarter that ended with the Gamecocks leading 21-7. Small scored on a 31-yard run for the Volunteers.

Vann’s second scoring reception — from 18 yards out — gave South Carolina a 35-17 lead with 2:04 left in the half. Hooker’s deflected pass was caught by McCoy for a 7-yard score with 12 seconds left as Tennessee moved within 11.

–Field Level Media

Oct 29, 2022; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) passes the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats during the first quarter at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 Tennessee ready to show it belongs on top vs. No. 3 Georgia

Defending national champion Georgia had been viewed as the top team in college football this season, but Tennessee has flipped the script.

When the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season were released on Tuesday night, the Volunteers were No. 1 while the Bulldogs were No. 3, creating even more drama for their big Southeastern Conference matchup on Saturday at Athens, Ga.

It’s the latest sign that Tennessee (8-0, 4-0 SEC) is a bona fide national championship contender in Josh Heupel’s second year as coach.

“I don’t know that we placed a timeframe on it,” Heupel said on ESPN after the rankings were unveiled. “I think that is one of the things that had our players buy into what we’re doing. We never set a ceiling. …

“There’s a long way to go. We obviously have a huge step this week in Athens, Georgia, but I love competing with this team every Saturday.”

Georgia (8-0, 5-0) also is behind Ohio State in the initial CFP rankings.

Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart never overlooks information when it comes to motivational speeches, so the current pecking order certainly will be mentioned leading into the showdown.

Georgia has won the past five meetings entering a contest featuring two of the strongest offenses in the nation.

The Volunteers lead the nation in scoring offense (49.4 points per game) and total offense (553.0 yards per game), while Georgia ranks second in total offense (530.1) and is tied for sixth in scoring (41.8).

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker has become a leading Heisman Trophy candidate by throwing for 2,338 yards with 21 touchdowns and just one interception. Big-play receiver Jalin Hyatt has 45 receptions for 907 yards and a nation-leading 14 touchdown catches.

Smart said Hooker is vastly improved over the quarterback the Bulldogs saw during a 41-17 victory in Knoxville last season.

“He’s one step ahead of where he was,” Smart said of Hooker. “To think of the reps and the games he’s played since the games last year, he’s just as elusive, he’s got probably the same arm talent. Those two don’t improve. It’s his decision-making and his processing. And the guys around him are playing better, too.”

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett has passed for 2,349 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He has a 22-3 career record as a starter.

Receiver Ladd McConkey (33 receptions, 413 yards, 2 TDs) and tight end Brock Bowers (31 catches, 547 yards, 3 TDs) are solid players. Bowers had five receptions for a career-high 154 yards and a touchdown last Saturday in the Bulldogs’ 42-20 win over Florida.

Defense is where there is a pronounced difference between the clubs.

Georgia ranks second in scoring defense (10.5) and fourth in total defense (262.6), while the Volunteers are tied for 26th in scoring defense (21.0) and are 82nd in total defense (393.6).

The Bulldogs remained sturdy on defense despite the loss of five NFL first-round picks and eight overall draftees from last season’s unit.

Smart doesn’t understand why outsiders expected a defensive drop-off this season.

“It is not like just because you lose good players, it does not mean you are not going to be good the next year,” Smart said. “Maybe that is an expectation that some teams have, but that is not the expectation of any team I have ever been a part of. The expectation is that you are going to be good because you recruit good players and because you coach hard.”

Hooker surely isn’t expecting an easy time against the Georgia defense.

“The effort and attitude and toughness that they bring to the game is immaculate, and that’s what SEC football is about,” Hooker said. “This is the top brand of football.”

The Bulldogs received a blow on Tuesday when Smart said standout outside linebacker Nolan Smith would miss the remainder of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle. Smith will undergo surgery.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) during Tennessee's game against Kentucky at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

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Hendon Hooker leads No. 3 Tennessee’s dismantling of No. 19 Kentucky

Hendon Hooker accounted for four touchdowns Saturday night, Jalin Hyatt set a school record for most receiving touchdowns in a season and No. 3 Tennessee outclassed No. 19 Kentucky across the board in a 44-6 Southeastern Conference rout in Knoxville, Tenn.

Hooker played an efficient game, completing 19 of 25 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Hyatt caught five passes for 138 yards and two scores, giving him 14 and breaking Marcus Nash’s 25-year old record of 13.

Equally as impressive was the performance of the Volunteer defense, which looked ready for next week’s challenge at No. 1 Georgia. Tennessee allowed just 205 total yards and 14 first downs while picking off Wildcats quarterback Will Levis three times.

Levis, considered a possible first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft, completed 16 of 27 passes for only 98 yards while absorbing four sacks.

Hooker and Hyatt wasted no time putting their stamp on the game. They hooked up for a 55-yard touchdown strike just 1:27 into the evening, electrifying a sellout crowd at Neyland Stadium.

Kentucky (5-3, 2-3) scored its only points at the 4:44 mark of the first quarter on a 3-yard run by Chris Rodriguez. But the extra-point kick was blocked and that’s as close as it got to playing with the high-flying Volunteers.

Tennessee (8-0, 5-0) established firm control with 20 second-quarter points. Princeton Fant rushed for a 2-yard touchdown on the period’s first play, followed by Jaylen Wright’s 1-yard run less than four minutes later. Hyatt caught a 31-yard scoring strike with 22 seconds left in the half for a 27-6 halftime lead.

Any thoughts of a dramatic Wildcats rally ended with Chase McGrath’s 29-yard field goal and Hooker’s 8-yard touchdown run that upped the Volunteers’ advantage to 37-6 with 3:58 left in the third quarter.

Hooker capped the scoring with a 13-yard scoring strike to Jabari Small at the 7:47 mark of the fourth period.

Tennessee ended the game with 422 total yards.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) during the first half against the Tennessee Martin Skyhawks at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Tennessee pits up-tempo style vs. No. 19 Kentucky

No. 19 Kentucky will face a big challenge on Saturday night — finding a way to slow the high-flying offense of No. 3 Tennessee in a key Southeastern Conference matchup in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Volunteers (7-0, 3-0) lead FBS with per-game averages of 50.1 points and 571.7 yards. Quarterback Hendon Hooker is playing at a Heisman Trophy level with 2,408 total yards, 18 touchdown passes and just one interception.

Receiver Jalin Hyatt has 40 catches for 769 yards and 12 touchdowns. The running game chips in nearly 203 yards per game, and the team converts third downs at a 51.5 percent clip.

So how can Kentucky keep Tennessee’s offense in check?

“When you’re playing the No. 1 offense in the country, you’d better be locked in,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. “You better play at a high clip or you’ll get embarrassed.”

Earlier this month, Kentucky (5-2, 2-2) got a taste of what it will be up against with Tennessee. The Wildcats started October with a trip to Ole Miss to face coach Lane Kiffin’s fast-tempo, high-scoring attack. While the Wildcats lost, they kept the Rebels out of the end zone for the last three quarters of a 22-19 setback.

Kentucky also is coming off a bye week, meaning it is well-rested and should be in better health. The Wildcats dealt with a spate of key injuries in their last two games before the open date.

“We needed some time to heal,” Stoops said. “The players needed some time to heal up a little bit and get our legs up underneath us to play a team as fast as Tennessee is in all areas.”

The Wildcats’ pro-style attack, which looks to establish the running game first, could help their defense. Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez rushed for 197 yards on 31 carries Oct. 15 in a 27-17 home win over Mississippi State, and if he can approach those numbers again, it would enhance the opportunity for an upset.

The Volunteers will have to match Kentucky’s physicality up front in order to keep Rodriguez in check and give themselves plenty of opportunity to score.

“Sometimes, they have three or four tight ends on the field, so they’re very multiple in their formations and they’re really going to challenge your run fits,” said Tennessee linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary. “Gap integrity is going to be very, very big this week.”

The Volunteers didn’t have a bye last week, but they had the next best thing — a home game with an FCS opponent. Tennessee clobbered UT Martin 65-24 and played reserves for most of the second half.

Tennessee owns an 82-26-9 advantage in the all-time series against the Wildcats, including a 45-42 win last year at Kentucky when Hooker threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2022; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Bru McCoy (15) and Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Ramel Keyton (80) celebrate a touchdown against the Tennessee Martin Skyhawks during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Tennessee continues offensive fireworks in blowing out UT Martin

Hendon Hooker passed for 276 yards and three touchdowns in less than two quarters of action and No. 3 Tennessee steamrolled UT Martin 65-24 on Saturday in nonconference play at Knoxville, Tenn.

Tight end Princeton Fant rushed for two touchdowns and threw a scoring pass for the Volunteers (7-0). Jalin Hyatt caught seven passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, Squirrel White had five receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown and Ramel Keyton caught five passes for 77 yards and two scores as Tennessee soared past the Skyhawks, who are ranked 14th in the FCS ranks.

Hyatt has caught 11 passes for 381 yards and seven touchdowns over the past two games. He set a school record and tied the Southeastern Conference mark with five scoring receptions in last week’s 52-49 win over Alabama.

Tennessee rolled up a season-high 696 yards of total offense. The Volunteers led the nation with an average of 551 entering the contest.

Dresser Winn passed for 301 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the Skyhawks (4-3), who dropped to 0-12 against SEC teams and 1-30 against FBS programs. George Qualls Jr. had two touchdown receptions and Colton Dowell caught seven passes for 112 yards.

This was the second meeting between schools located 331 miles apart. Tennessee rolled to a 50-0 win in 2012.

Jabari Small scored on a 1-yard run on the Volunteers’ first drive to get things started, but the Skyhawks answered when Zoe Roberts scored on a 4-yard jet sweep with 9:05 left in the period.

Tennessee went ahead for good on Fant’s 1-yard run with 5:59 left. The Volunteers increased the lead to 21-7 on the final play of the quarter when Hooker connected with Keyton on an 8-yard scoring pass.

Chase McGrath kicked a 40-yard field goal with 10:54 left in the second to start a streak in which Tennessee scored 10 points in 41 seconds.

UT Martin turned it over on its next offensive play as Trevon Flowers forced Sam Franklin to fumble and Aaron Beasley recovered at the Skyhawks’ 31-yard line. Two plays later, Hooker teamed with Hyatt on a 22-yard touchdown pass to make it 31-7 and stretch Tennessee’s streak of scoring at least 30 points to 10 consecutive games.

The Volunteers boosted their lead to 31 on Hooker’s 17-yard pass to Keyton with 7:09 left in the half, and Fant tacked on an 11-yard run to make it 45-7 with 4:15 remaining.

Tennessee dipped into the trick play book on its next possession as Fant received a backward pass from backup quarterback Joe Milton III and connected with a wide-open Hyatt. The ball was initially juggled by Hyatt around the 25 before he corralled it and completed a 68-yard scoring play with 2:10 left.

Dylan Sampson scored on a 1-yard run early in the third quarter to make it 58-7 before the Volunteers lowered gears while finishing off the rout.

–Field Level Media