Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman (4) gets his hands on the ball but it falls incomplete in the NCAA college football game between the Tennesse Volunteers and Vanderbilt Commodores in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, November 27, 2021.

Kns Tennessee Vanderbilt Football

Hendon Hooker propels Tennessee past Vanderbilt with big-play attack

Hendon Hooker threw for two touchdowns before leaving with a left hand injury Saturday as Tennessee closed its regular season with a 45-21 win over Vanderbilt in Knoxville, Tenn.

Hooker completed 10 of 18 passes for 156 yards as the Volunteers (7-5, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) beat their in-state rivals for the third straight year. Tennessee now waits to see what bowl game it will get invited to, making coach Josh Heupel’s first season a big success.

Mike Wright hit on 16 of 31 passes for 198 yards with a touchdown and an interception for the Commodores (2-10, 0-8), which have now lost 21 consecutive SEC games, dating back to 2019.

Wright’s one big mistake put Vanderbilt down 7-0 less than three minutes into the game. He tossed an interception that Theo Jackson returned 55 yards for a touchdown.

After the Commodores controlled the ball for most of the first quarter, the Volunteers took over in the second quarter, cranking up their high-powered attack. Jabari Small’s 6-yard scoring run with 9:05 left in the half upped the margin to 14-0 and Hooker made it 21-0 less than five minutes later on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Cedric Tillman.

Chase McGrath connected on a 31-yard field goal in the last minute, but Wright got Vanderbilt on the board with a Hail Mary pass of 56 yards to Will Sheppard, drawing it within 24-7 at halftime.

The Commodores’ momentum lasted all of 33 seconds. On the second play of the third quarter, Hooker and Tillman hooked up for a 46-yard touchdown pass that increased the lead to 31-7.

Rocko Griffin scored on a 13-yard touchdown run for Vanderbilt at the 6:28 mark of the third, but Tennessee answered back 76 seconds later with Small’s second touchdown run, an 11-yarder.

Each team added a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Wright scored on a 4-yard run with 9:17 remaining for the Commodores and Jaylen Wright countered for the Volunteers with a 10-yard run at the 3:12 mark.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman (4) scores a touchdown during a game against South Alabama at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.

Kns Tennessee South Alabama Football

Tennessee steps out of conference, crushes South Alabama

Hendon Hooker completed 17 of 20 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another score as Tennessee became bowl eligible with a 60-14 victory against South Alabama in a nonconference game Saturday night in Knoxville, Tenn.

Jabari Small rushed for two touchdowns and Velus Jones Jr. returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score for the Volunteers (6-5), in their first year under coach Josh Heupel. Jaylen Wright rushed for a game-high 83 yards on 13 carries, and Small added 73 on 11 attempts.

South Alabama’s Desmond Trotter, filling in for the injured Jake Bentley, was 19-of-32 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns. The Jaguars (5-6) would have become bowl eligible with a victory, but now will return home and need to beat No. 21 Coastal Carolina on Friday.

Hooker, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, is on pace to break a pair of school records. He entered the game sixth nationally with a 179.2 passer efficiency rating, which will only go up after Saturday’s performance. The record of 163 was set by Darryl Dickey in 1985.

Hooker’s completion percentage improved to 70.0, with Erik Ainge holding the current mark of 67.0.

As usual, the Volunteers got off to a fast start, taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter as Small and Wright scored on runs of 1 and 17 yards, respectively. Tennessee has outscored opponents 162-44 in the opening period this season.

The Jaguars had a chance to pull within a touchdown early in the second quarter, but Trotter was sacked for an 8-yard loss by Trevon Flowers on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line.

Herndon completed touchdown passes of 27 yards to Cedric Tillman and 24 yards to Princeton Fant to make it 28-0.

The Jaguars scored on a 3-yard pass from Trotter to Lincoln Sefcik with 1:36 left in the half, but Jones returned the ensuing kickoff to give the Volunteers a 35-7 halftime lead.

Small scored on a 3-yard run and Herndon from 6 yards out in the third to make it 49-7.

Tennessee’s Len’Neth Whitehead scored on a 5-yard run early in the fourth to extend the lead to 56-7, before Trotter threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Tolbert.

The Volunteers got two safeties to wrap up the scoring.

–Field Level Media

Nov 13, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. (1) runs past Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Latavious Brini (36) for a touchdown during the first quarter at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 Georgia routs Tennessee, goes unbeaten in SEC for first time since ’82

James Cook scored three touchdowns to lead top-ranked Georgia to a 41-17 victory over host Tennessee on Saturday in Knoxville as the Bulldogs went undefeated in Southeastern Conference play for the first time since 1982.

Cook scored on runs of 39 and 5 yards and caught a 23-yard touchdown pass to finish with 104 rushing yards on 10 carries and three receptions for 43 yards for Georgia (10-0, 8-0 SEC), which amassed 487 yards of total offense.

The Bulldogs’ defense dominated Tennessee (5-5, 3-4), posting six sacks, forcing two turnovers, and holding the Volunteers to seven points in the final 46:38.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett went 17-for-29 passing for 213 yards and a touchdown, in addition to running for 40 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. He spread the ball around, completing passes to nine different receivers, led by Adonai Mitchell’s five catches for 65 yards.

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker went 24-for-37 passing for 244 yards and a touchdown, with an interception, before being replaced by Joe Milton with 7:03 remaining.

Cedric Tillman had 10 catches for 200 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown catch, with Velus Jones adding eight catches, including a 9-yard touchdown, for 44 yards. Jabari Small rushed for 49 yards on 12 carries.

Trailing 24-10 at halftime, Tennessee drove to Georgia’s 17-yard line before turning the ball over on downs. The Bulldogs responded by marching 74 yards in 13 plays to take a 27-10 lead on Jack Podlesny’s 26-yard field goal with 4:41 left in the third quarter.

After Tennessee turned the ball over on downs on its next possession, Georgia put the game away when Cook’s 5-yard run capped a seven-play, 60-yard drive to give the Bulldogs a 34-10 lead with 13:14 remaining.

Kenny McIntosh’s 5-yard run pushed Georgia’s lead to 41-10 with 7:03 left.

After both teams scored a touchdown followed by a punt on their first two possessions, Tennessee capped the first-quarter scoring when Chase McGrath’s 24-yard field goal capped a 13-play, 76-yard drive with 1:39 remaining.

Georgia tied the game at 10 when Podlesny’s 40-yard field goal ended a nine-play, 44-yard drive with 9:42 left in the second quarter.

The Bulldogs took a 17-10 lead shortly after Derion Kendrick’s interception gave Georgia the ball at Tennessee’s 40-yard line. Five plays later, Bennett rushed up the middle 9 yards into the end zone with 7:24 remaining in the half.

Georgia extended its lead to 24-10 at the half when Bennett found Cook running down the sideline for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 37 seconds left.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee quarterback Harrison Bailey (15) on the field before the start of an NCAA college football game between the Tennessee Volunteers and Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, September 18, 2021.

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Tennessee QB Harrison Bailey entering transfer portal

Tennessee quarterback Harrison Bailey is looking for a new opportunity.

The second-year player announced his decision to leave the Volunteers on social media Wednesday.

“It’s with a heavy heart, I would like to announce that I will be entering the transfer portal and exploring other opportunities,” he wrote, in part, on Twitter.

A four-star recruit and Top 100 overall prospect in the 2020 signing class, Bailey was third on the depth chart this season behind Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker and Michigan transfer Joe Milton.

After passing for 568 yards and four touchdowns in six games as a true freshman in 2020, he appeared in just one game in 2021 and completed 3 of 7 passes for 16 yards against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 18.

Bailey, a native of Powder Springs, Ga., chose Tennessee over Alabama, Auburn and Florida, among others.

–Field Level Media

Oct 16, 2021; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young (9) reacts after a touchdown against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No. 4 Alabama looks to maintain hold on Tennessee

ESPN college football analyst Tim Tebow said Texas A&M’s 41-38 upset win over Alabama on Oct. 9 effectively “woke a sleeping giant.”

The Crimson Tide looked wide awake last week while routing Mississippi State 49-9 in Starkville, boosting them to the No. 4 ranking in this week’s AP Top 25.

They aim for a second consecutive win Saturday night when they welcome Tennessee to Tuscaloosa.

The once-great rivalry has become totally lopsided since Nick Saban took over at Alabama before the 2007 season.

Saban is 14-0 against the Volunteers as the Crimson Tide’s coach, and aside from a 12-10 victory in 2009 that required Alabama to block a potential game-winning field goal, few of the games have been close. That includes last year’s 48-17 blowout in Knoxville.

Josh Heupel is the sixth Tennessee coach to try his hand at beating Alabama in the Saban regime. He will have to do it with a potentially short deck as quarterback Hendon Hooker (leg) is considered day-to-day after leaving last week’s 31-26 loss to Ole Miss in the final minute.

“I don’t think it’s a long-term injury,” Heupel said. “We’ll see as the week unfolds where we wind up with Hendon.”

Hooker’s injury was barely a footnote in light of all the crazy things that happened over the game’s final minute. Hooker’s 23-yard pass to Jacob Warren was less than a yard shy of a first down on fourth-and-24 with 54 seconds left, enraging a sellout crowd that earlier saw a scoop-and-score touchdown by the Tennessee defense overturned.

A minority of fans threw objects ranging from mustard bottles to golf balls — hitting Rebels coach Lane Kiffin with one — and forced a 20-minute delay. The Volunteers’ band, cheerleaders and dance team all left rather than face potential serious injuries from the bombardment of debris.

On Monday, Southeastern Conference slapped Tennessee with a $250,000 fine for the conduct of its fans. Heupel said that one of his takeaways from the game was how spirited the fans were, even after Neyland Stadium was turned into a veritable trash can.

“I know for some people the story is about what happened (with the fans in the final minute), but our administration has obviously made it clear that that’s not the stance in what we want,” he said. “You know that I feel the same way.”

While the Volunteers (4-3, 2-2 SEC) endured a gut-wrenching loss following the wild ending, the Tide (6-1, 3-1) looked more like their old selves at Mississippi State. Their defense kept the Bulldogs out of the end zone, even supplying a pick-six from Jordan Battle, and their offense displayed good balance.

Bryce Young threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, completing 20 of 28 passes, as the offense rolled up 543 total yards.

“If we continue to play like we played in the last game, play for 60 minutes, play hard, support each other … I think we can develop a really positive identity,” Saban said. “I think we took the first step of that in the last game, and hopefully we’ll be able to build on that in the future.”

Alabama is shooting for its 58th win in its past 60 home games. The Crimson Tide haven’t lost at home to Tennessee since 2003, when the Volunteers pulled out a 51-43 thriller after five overtimes.

–Field Level Media

A pizza box is thrown onto the field from the stands after it was ruled that Jacob Warren was a yard short of the first down marker on a 4th and 24 play during an SEC football game between Tennessee and Ole Miss at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Tennessee fans littered the Neyland Stadium field with debris for several minutes following Ole Miss' game-clinching defensive stop with 54 seconds to play.

Kns Tennessee Ole Miss Football

SEC punishes Tennessee for fan behavior

The SEC on Monday levied penalties against Tennessee for the behavior of its fans during the football team’s loss to Mississippi on Saturday.

Those penalties include a fine, a requirement to find and ban specific fans and a review of the school’s alcohol policy.

The home crowd in Knoxville caused a stoppage of nearly 20 minutes as fans threw water bottles and other objects onto the field in the final minute against Ole Miss.

“The disruption of Saturday night’s game is unacceptable and cannot be repeated on any SEC campus,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “Today’s actions are consistent with the oversight assigned by the membership to the SEC office, including the financial penalty and review of alcohol availability. We will use this opportunity to reemphasize to each SEC member the importance of providing a safe environment even with the intensity of competition that occurs every week.”

The conference is assessing a $250,000 fine, which will be automatically deducted from the school’s share of SEC revenue distribution.

The school is also required to use all available resources — including security, stadium and television video — to identify anybody who threw objects onto the field. Once identified, those individuals will be banned from attending future Tennessee athletic events, and the university will be required to report on its progress to the conference office.

The SEC also is asking Tennessee to review its stadium alcohol policy and provide an update on its findings.

Per the SEC’s release: “The Conference is not suspending alcohol sales privileges for the University of Tennessee at this time but reserves the right to do so if other requirements outlined above are not met.”

Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman was shocked by the conduct of the school’s fans.

“I am astonished and sickened by the behavior of some Vol fans at the end of tonight’s game,” she posted to social media after the game. “Good sportsmanship must be part of who we are as Volunteers. Behavior that puts student-athletes, visitors and other fans at risk is not something we will tolerate.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 2, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver JaVonta Payton (3) catches a touchdown pass against Missouri Tigers defensive back Allie Green IV (24) during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee ignites offense in rout of Missouri

Tennessee scored on its first nine possessions, including six for touchdowns, en route to a 62-24 win over Missouri in a clash of Southeastern Conference East Division teams Saturday in Columbia, Mo.

The Volunteers (3-2, 1-1) amassed 667 yards in total offense, topping the 600-yard mark for the first time since they had 609 yards against Missouri in 2016.

Sophomore Tiyon Evans rushed for a career-high 156 yards and Hendon Hooker completed 15 of 19 passes for 225 yards. The Vols rushed for 452 yards to eclipse the 400-yard mark rushing for the first time since 1994 against Vanderbilt.

Marcus Pierce’s 27-yard touchdown run gave the Vols their highest point total since their 63-37 win over Missouri in 2016.

Connor Bazelak passed for 322 yards for the Tigers (2-3, 0-2). He also had two interceptions, with the first setting up the second of Evans’ touchdowns from 1 yard out.

Tyler Badie and D’iOnte Smith each rushed for touchdown and Kris Abram-Drane scored on a 100-yard kickoff return for Missouri. It was the Tigers’ first kickoff return for a touchdown since 2014.

Evans also had a career-long 92-yard run for a touchdown but was denied a fourth score when the Tigers stopped him on fourth-and-goal from 1 yard out midway through the fourth quarter.

The Vols amassed 425 yards in the first half alone, with 275 coming on the ground. Evans already had already surpassed his career high in rushing with 123 yards by then.

The Tigers managed a respectable 210 yards in the first two quarters but hurt them selves with eight penalties, half of them on holding violations Three of the holding calls came on one drive that eventually forced them to settle for a field goal when a touchdown would have tied the game at 7-7.

–Field Level Media

Florida Gators running back Malik Davis (20) runs the ball during the football game between the Florida Gators and The Alabama Crimson Tide, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Sept. 18, 2021.

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Tennessee looks for elusive win vs. No. 11 Florida

Once upon a time, a Tennessee-Florida football game was not just a main event in the Southeastern Conference’s East Division, but in the country.

Now it’s just another game for these programs. It’s been made that way by Alabama’s dominant 13-year run and Tennessee’s stunning fall from being a national power to its conference’s version of Miami or Texas, a team badly in need of something good to happen sooner instead of later.

The Volunteers (2-1, 0-0 SEC) will have that chance Saturday night in Gainesville, Fla., albeit against a program they’ve beaten once since 2005. Tennessee will have to come up with something special to pick up the first big win of the Josh Heupel era.

“We’ve got to do the ordinary at a really high level in a big game like this against a really good football team,” Heupel said.

The 11th-ranked Gators (2-1, 0-1) distinguished themselves far more in last week’s 31-29 defeat at home against No. 1 Alabama than in non-conference walkovers against Florida Atlantic and South Florida.

Florida was the more physical football team for long stretches, rolling up 245 yards on the ground and nearly overcoming a 21-3 deficit in the first quarter. But the Gators were unable to convert a game-tying 2-point run with 3:41 left and couldn’t get the ball back until just four seconds remained.

While the consensus among college football experts was that Florida proved its chops despite losing, coach Dan Mullen said his players weren’t celebrating making a good showing by any means.

“Our guys expected to win the game, to be perfectly honest with you,” he said. “I mean, they’re pretty disappointed that they didn’t. There wasn’t much praise or happiness or smiles (Monday) morning in the team meeting.

“There’s some positive things that we can take out of it, and there are things that we need to get corrected. It’s making sure we embrace that. Let’s actually build off what we did well and do it even better.”

The Gators’ showing in the trenches drew lots of attention. The last time the Crimson Tide was pushed around that consistently on the defensive line, coach Nick Saban was trying to figure out a way to win with the Miami Dolphins in 2006.

Malik Davis rushed for a game-high 86 yards on just 10 carries, while quarterback Emory Jones added 77 yards on 19 attempts. But he also tossed his fifth interception in three games that was quickly turned into one of Alabama’s three first-quarter touchdowns.

Jones was 18 of 28 in the air for 195 yards, playing the entire game with backup Anthony Richardson (hamstring) sidelined. Mullen said Richardson could return this week.

The quarterback position is also a question for the Volunteers. Starter Joe Milton sat out a 56-0 rout of FCS foe Tennessee Tech last week with a leg injury. Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker played efficiently, completing 17 of 25 passes for 199 yards and three scores while adding 64 yards and a score on the ground.

Heupel said Milton would get work in practice Tuesday or Wednesday.

“We’ll see where we are at at that point, as far as whether he’ll be able to play or not,” the coach said.
Tennessee is averaging 42.7 points, but this will be its first road game. And it will be in a venue where it hasn’t won since 2003.

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2021; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Joe Milton III (7) runs the ball against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the second quarter at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee faces QB uncertainty ahead of hosting Tennessee Tech

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel has adopted a “wait-and-see” approach to his team’s situation at quarterback as the Volunteers (1-1) prepare for Saturday’s nonconference game against Tennessee Tech (0-2).

Joe Milton III, a transfer from Michigan, has started the first two games for the Vols after beating out Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker and returnee Harrison Bailey, who had three starts as a freshman last year.

But Milton sustained a leg injury in last week’s 41-34 loss to Pittsburgh and was largely ineffective before going down. He managed only 50 yards passing while going 7-of-12, though he did rush for 54 yards despite 14 yards in losses on sacks. He is 18-of-35 passing for 189 yards in a game-and-a-half.

Hooker completed 15-of-21 attempts for 188 yards in 2 1/2 quarters against Pitt but also lost a fumble and threw an interception in Pitt territory on Tennessee’s final series.

“I thought Hendon did a lot of good things,” Heupel said. “As a backup you don’t get the same amount of reps and you don’t know when your time is going to be called.

“I thought he answered the bell with a lot of positive things during the course of play. Obviously, he has to do a better job taking care of the football.”

Heupel said he will be evaluating Milton’s injury in practice but did not commit to starting him if he is healthy.

“We’ll find out during the course of the week,” Heupel said. “There are multiple factors that play into who’s taking the snaps.”

The game against Tennessee Tech — the third consecutive at home for the Vols to open the season — doesn’t figure to be much of a challenge for the Vols, but a trip to No. 11 Florida is coming up on Sept. 25.

The FCS team opened the season with a 52-14 loss to Samford and last week lost 26-0 at home against Furman. The Golden Eagles have managed only 352 yards in total offense in two games after rushing for 23 yards and passing for only 98 against Furman.

“We’re scrapping hard, but the consistency is not where it needs to be,” Tech coach Dewayne Alexander said. “There’s a difference in playing hard and playing well. You still have to be able to do both.”

Quarterback Davis Shanley has thrown four interceptions while completing 45.5 percent of his passes for 219 yards and one score. Tennessee Tech’s long passing gain is 23 yards.’

–Field Level Media