Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III (7) pulls back to throw during the NCAA college football game against  UT Martin on Saturday, October 22, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn.

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Title hopes dashed and QB out, No. 10 Vols aim to rebound at Vandy

Tennessee has little time to regroup as it prepares to close out the regular season against in-state rival Vanderbilt on Saturday night in Nashville, Tenn.

The Volunteers (9-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) endured a crushing 63-38 road loss to South Carolina last week.

Tennessee dropped from the cusp of the College Football Playoff at No. 5 to No. 10 in the new rankings released Tuesday night.

Making things worse, starting quarterback Hendon Hooker was lost for the remainder of the season with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament.

So what’s left for the Volunteers to play for?

“I don’t really know when (was) the last time we played for a New Year’s Six bowl, but I know that that’s still a big bowl game for us,” Tennessee defensive tackle Omari Thomas said. “That’s still something that we’re looking forward to.”

The 2000 Fiesta Bowl, when Tennessee was coming off a national championship the year before, was the last time the Volunteers played in a postseason game comparable to a “New Year’s Six” bowl.

Tennessee will try to rally behind backup quarterback Joe Milton III, a senior transfer from Michigan and Hooker’s roommate who has played sparingly in six games this season.

“Outside of subtle nuances that we’ll study through the snaps he has taken, I think this is a system offense,” Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea said. “I don’t see it as deviating if at all from what has delivered their success.”

Milton has completed 23 of 33 passes for 573 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions while rushing for 72 yards on seven attempts.

“(Milton) was preparing like he was QB1 throughout the whole year, so he is definitely prepared for this opportunity,” Tennessee running back Jabari Small said. “It was just time, he was going to get his chance. Hate (that) it had to be under these circumstances, but he is more than ready.”

After winning five games combined the previous three seasons, Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-5) has put together back-to-back upset victories over then-No. 24 Kentucky and Florida to give itself a chance to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2018.

The Commodores have their own quarterback quandary as it is still unclear whether freshman AJ Swann, who hasn’t played since getting hurt on Nov. 5 against South Carolina, will be ready to return this weekend. He and junior Mike Wright were listed as co-starters on the team’s depth chart this week.

Swann has completed 104 of 181 passes for 1,195 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions while Wright has connected on 78 of 135 for 946 yards and 12 touchdowns with four interceptions.

“(Swann) hasn’t played football in a while, so we want to be conscious of that,” Lea said. “Obviously, we know his skills and he has certainly accumulated enough reps this year to be ready. He has to be healthy. If he’s healthy, then the decision tips to the person who gives our team the best chance to win.”

Vanderbilt hopes to take advantage of a Tennessee defense that gave up a staggering 606 yards of total offense against South Carolina last week.

Tennessee is 78-33-5 all-time against Vanderbilt and has won the past three meetings. The Commodores’ most recent win came in Nashville in 2018.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2022; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) is assisted off the field after suffering an apparent injury against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker (ACL) out for season

Tennessee announced Sunday evening that quarterback Hendon Hooker tore the ACL in his left knee in Saturday’s loss to South Carolina and was done for the season.

Hooker was a Heisman Trophy hopeful after guiding the Volunteers to major wins in the SEC and the No. 1 spot in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.

The injury marks the end of Hooker’s career, as the former Virginia Tech quarterback was in his final year of collegiate eligibility.

“Hendon’s incredible journey has been defined by faith, perseverance and strength,” Tennessee said in a statement. “Obstacles have never stood in the way on his path to greatness. Forever a Tennessee legend and the ultimate teammate, we know Hendon will come back stronger than ever as he embarks on a promising NFL future.”

In 11 games this season, Hooker has completed 69.6 percent of his passes for a career-high 3,135 yards, 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He guided Tennessee to an 8-0 start with wins over LSU and Alabama.

But the Volunteers have lost two of their past three games – 27-13 to No. 1 Georgia and 63-38 on the road Saturday at South Carolina.

Early in the fourth quarter of the Gamecocks blowout, Hooker suffered a non-contact injury to his left leg on a rush attempt. He fumbled on the play and it was recovered by South Carolina’s Jordan Burch.

Joe Milton III is the next man up at quarterback for Tennessee, which was No. 5 in the country last week and is sure to fall in the new CFP rankings Tuesday night.

In four seasons at Virginia Tech (2019-20) and Tennessee (2021-22), Hooker amassed 8,974 passing yards, 80 touchdowns and just 12 picks. He had 58 scoring passes and just five interceptions in his two seasons with the Volunteers.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2022; Columbia, South Carolina, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) passes against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker leaves game with injury

Tennessee star quarterback Hendon Hooker injured his left knee during the fourth quarter of the No. 5 Volunteers’ game at South Carolina and was ruled out for the rest of the contest.

Hooker, who was hurt on a non-contact play, also lost a fumble on the play with 11:28 left in the game. Tennessee trainers examined the knee on the sideline and Hooker later slowly walked off the field to the locker room.

Joe Milton III replaced Hooker at quarterback.

Hooker, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, passed for 247 yards and three touchdowns before exiting.

Hooker has passed for 3,135 yards and 27 touchdowns against two interceptions this season. He also has rushed for 430 yards and five scores.

–Field Level Media

South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Spencer Rattler (7) passes under pressure in the first half. Florida hosted the South Carolina Gamecocks in the last home game of the season at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday, November 12, 2022. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

Ncaa Football Florida Gators Vs South Carolina Gamecocks

No. 5 Tennessee keeps nose in title chase, eyes on South Carolina

Fifth-ranked Tennessee can secure a 10-win season for the first time since 2007 and keep its nose in the middle of the national championship chase when it battles South Carolina on Saturday in Southeastern Conference play at Columbia, S.C.

The Volunteers (9-1, 5-1 SEC) are even more fixated on the College Football Playoff race as they sit just outside the four semifinal spots.

Tennessee plans to treat South Carolina (6-4, 3-4) the way it did Missouri in last weekend’s 66-24 trouncing.

The Volunteers set a school record with 724 yards total offense and established a school mark by topping 50 points for the fifth time in a season.

Quarterback Hendon Hooker bolstered his Heisman Trophy resume, passing for 355 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 50 yards and one score. He has passed for 2,888 yards and 24 touchdowns against just two interceptions and also has rushed for 405 yards and five scores.

He is the prime reason why Tennessee leads the nation in scoring offense (47.4 points per game) and total offense (543.7).

“He is in complete command of what we are doing,” Volunteers coach Josh Heupel said of Hooker. “You look at the efficiency of how he is playing, the ability to take care of the football, the dynamic plays that he has made with his arm and with his feet. We don’t look like we do offensively without him.”

Receiver Jalin Hyatt was superb against Missouri with seven receptions for 146 yards and one touchdown. His yardage total sits at 1,116, third most in school history behind Marcus Nash (1,170) and Robert Meachem (1,298 in 2006).

Tennessee’s lone loss of the season came on the road against Georgia 27-13 on Nov. 5 in a raucous atmosphere. Heupel and Hooker are expecting another tough environment.

“Honestly, I feel like everyone on the offensive side of the ball is excited to go into this atmosphere,” Hooker said. “We’ve seen what it was like at Georgia and moving forward, we know what to expect. Anytime going into an environment like this, you want to prepare and do different things to get ready for that environment, so crowd noise at practice is a thing.”

South Carolina gave up 21 unanswered points in the first quarter last weekend while losing 38-6 at Florida.

Gamecocks coach Shame Beamer was disappointed in the performance.

“Obviously, (the Florida game) wasn’t good enough. We need to be better. How are we going to be better this week? That’s any position. That’s any side of the ball. It’s a conversation we had on Sunday. We weren’t good enough on offense. We weren’t good enough stopping the run, on defense. We weren’t good enough protecting the football.”

The Florida game was reminiscent of last season’s game at Tennessee when the Volunteers scored 28 first-quarter points and rolled to a 45-20 victory over the Gamecocks.

Beamer said he hasn’t communicated with the team about last season’s debacle.

“I haven’t at least in front of the team, haven’t talked about the start last year. I think they know,” Beamer said. “… Making sure that they understand we have to be able to handle the tempo better earlier, hopefully, than what we did last season.”

South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler has thrown for 1,982 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Leading rusher MarShawn Lloyd (556 yards, nine touchdowns) is hopeful of returning after missing the past two games with a bruised thigh.

Safety Nick Emmanwori (team-high 66 tackles) and outside linebacker Gilber Edmond (team-best eight tackles for loss) are having solid seasons for a defense allowing 26.2 points and 386 yards per game.

Tennessee has won the past three meetings.

–Field Level Media

Oct 15, 2022; Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA;  Michigan Wolverines cheerleader celebrates after a touchdown in the second half against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia No. 1 in AP Top 25 for ninth week; top 5 unchanged

The top five teams in the Associated Press Top 25 poll remained unchanged from last week, with Georgia still a dominant No. 1 choice.

The Bulldogs received 62 of 63 votes in the latest poll released Sunday, with No. 2 Ohio State garnering the only other first-place vote. Defending champion Georgia sits atop the poll for the ninth time this season.

The four top teams — No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 TCU — all moved to 10-0 with victories on Saturday. No. 5 Tennessee is 9-1, its only loss to Georgia.

Rounding out the Top 10 are LSU, Southern California, Alabama, Clemson and Utah.

TCU squeaked out a 17-10 win at Texas, while Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and Tennessee won their conference games by a combined margin of 201-60.

Pac-12 programs Oregon and UCLA, both in the Top 10 last week, plummeted following losses on Saturday. The Ducks fell six spots to No. 12 and the Bruins dropped seven places to No. 16 following upsets.

Washington, ranked No. 24 last week, climbed nine spots after its 37-34 defeat of Oregon.

Moving back into the Top 25 were No. 22 Cincinnati, No. 24 Oklahoma State and No. 25 Oregon State. Making its season debut on the list is No. 23 Coastal Carolina (9-1) following its 26-23 win over Southern Miss.

Dropping out of the poll were NC State, Texas, Liberty and Illinois.

The updated College Football Playoff rankings will be unveiled Tuesday night. Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and TCU were the top four in last week’s rankings.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2022; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) during the game against the Missouri Tigers at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Hendon Hooker, No. 5 Tennessee topple Missouri

Hendon Hooker passed for 355 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for a score to lead No. 5 Tennessee to a 66-24 victory over Missouri in Southeastern Conference play on Saturday afternoon at Knoxville, Tenn.

Jaylen Wright rushed for two touchdowns and Princeton Fant caught two scoring passes as the Volunteers (9-1, 5-1) avenged last week’s loss to now-No. 1 Georgia.

Jalin Hyatt had seven receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown and Bru McCoy caught nine passes for 111 yards as Tennessee scored 40 or more points for the seventh time this season.

Hooker completed 25 of 35 passes and also rushed for 50 yards for Tennessee, which racked up season bests for points and total offense (724 yards).

Brady Cook completed 19 of 32 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 106 yards for Missouri (4-6, 2-5). Tauskie Dove and Dominic Lovett caught touchdown passes and Luther Burden III was credited with a rushing score.

The Tigers finished with 389 total yards.

Missouri trailed 28-24 after Cook threw a 38-yard scoring pass to Lovett with 8:55 left in the third quarter but the Volunteers responded with 38 unanswered points.

First, Hyatt came out of the backfield and was left uncovered and caught the ball just before midfield and scampered 68 yards to make it an 11-point game with 8:30 left in the period.

The next time the Volunteers had the ball, Hooker finished it with a 2-yard scoring pass to Fant to make it 42-24 with 4:34 remaining.

Tennessee increased the lead to 25 when Wright scored from the 1 with 1:19 left in the quarter.

Chase McGrath’s 46-yard field goal made it 52-24 with 7:54 left in the game. The Volunteers piled on with backup Joe Milton III tossing a 46-yard touchdown pass to Ramel Keaton and Dylan Sampson scoring from the 2.

Hooker passed for 229 yards and rushed for 57 in the first half as the Volunteers led 28-17.

Tennessee drove 91 yards on its first possession with Jabari Small scoring on a 10-yard run. The Tigers tied it when Burden caught a backward pass and took it 4 yards for the score with 1:56 left in the opening quarter

Wright scored from the 3 as the Volunteers took a 14-7 lead 19 seconds into the second quarter. The lead increased to 14 when Hooker tossed a 19-yard scoring pass to Fant with 10:24 to play.

Cook tossed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Dove to pull the Tigers within 21-14 with 5:48 remaining in the half. Tennessee answered with Hooker’s 14-yard keeper.

Harrison Mevis booted a 32-yard field goal to bring Missouri within 11 as time expired in the half.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) is sacked by Georgia defensive back Javon Bullard (22) during the second half of a NCAA college football game between Tennessee and Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Georgia won 27-13.

News Joshua L Jones

No. 5 Tennessee looks to bounce back in meeting with Missouri

Fifth-ranked Tennessee will try to rebound from a punishing setback when it squares off with Missouri in Southeastern Conference play on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Volunteers were No. 1 in last week’s initial College Football Playoff rankings but fell out of the top four after losing 27-13 to then-No. 3 Georgia last weekend in an outcome that was wider than the final score indicates.

Tennessee (8-1, 4-1 SEC) was sailing prior to the loss against the Bulldogs, so coach Josh Heupel doesn’t see any reason to panic.

“There’s a whole month of football left,” Heupel said Monday. “There’s a lot of ball left to be played by everybody in the country. Up until this point we have done a lot of things right. Obviously in that ballgame … we didn’t come out on the right side of the scoreboard.

“There’s nothing that we can control other than how we are, how we approach it and how we go play and compete. At the end of the day, it’s about trying to find a way to be the best team on the field during the 60 minutes. That’s all we are concerned about.”

The Volunteers had a season-low 289 yards of total offense against Georgia after topping 500 six times this season.

Tennessee also established a season low for points after scoring 40 or more in four straight games and six overall.

Heisman Trophy candidate Hendon Hooker had his worst showing with 195 yards and one interception. His school record of 20 straight games with at least one touchdown pass also ended.

“A lot of self-inflicted mistakes,” said Hooker, who has thrown for 2,533 yards, 21 touchdowns and two interceptions. “Georgia came out and played a great game. Hats off to those guys. We definitely left a lot of plays out there from not doing things that we normally do on a daily basis. It comes back to little things, paying attention to detail.”

Missouri (4-5, 2-4) lost 21-17 to Kentucky last weekend and another defeat would make it impossible for the Tigers to finish with their first winning season in Eliah Drinkwitz’s three campaigns as coach.

Still, Missouri announced a contract extension through the 2027 season for Drinkwitz, who is 15-17 with the Tigers entering the matchup with the Volunteers.

“We are heading in the right direction,” Drinkwitz said. “Have to get everybody pulling in the right direction and we got three games left, we got a lot of opportunities ahead of us, two of those at home. This team will stay together and fight.”

Missouri’s four SEC losses are by a combined 18 points. All have been by seven points or less with one of the close calls being a 26-22 loss to Georgia.

Drinkwitz was asked if the tight encounters are a sign of progress or a source of frustration.

“Both,” he said. “It’s frustrating because we haven’t found the play to win but it’s also a sign of progress in that we are in the fight and now we have to find a way to win that fight.”

Against Kentucky, the Tigers gained just 232 yards but limited the Wildcats to 252. Missouri posted a season-high five sacks.

Outside linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper leads the Tigers with 52 tackles, while safety Jaylor Carlies has 48 stops, including a team-best two interceptions.

Brady Cook has passed for 1,795 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions.

The Volunteers have won the past three meetings.

–Field Level Media

Georgia defensive back Javon Bullard (22) celebrates after sacking Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) during the second half of a NCAA college football game between Tennessee and Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Georgia won 27-13.

News Joshua L Jones

Georgia a near-unanimous No. 1 in AP Top 25

Georgia received almost near-unanimous confirmation as it remained atop the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Sunday after a win over previous No. 2 Tennessee.

The undefeated Bulldogs (9-0) captured 62 of 63 first-place votes after their convincing 27-13 win over the Volunteers in Athens, Ga., on Saturday. Tennessee fell to No. 5 in the poll and undoubtedly will drop when the next College Football Playoff rankings are released Tuesday night.

In last Tuesday’s CFP rankings — the first of the season — the Volunteers held the No. 1 spot, followed by Ohio State and Georgia.

Ohio State (9-0) claimed the remaining first-place vote in the AP poll and the No. 2 slot despite struggling in a 21-7 defeat of lowly Northwestern on Saturday. The Buckeyes’ Big Ten rival, Michigan, moved up to No. 3, followed by TCU.

Both the Wolverines and Horned Frogs are 9-0.

Rounding out the Top 10 are No. 6 Oregon, followed by LSU, Southern California, UCLA and Alabama.

LSU defeated Alabama Saturday night, 32-31, when Tigers coach Brian Kelly made a gutsy decision to go for a two-point conversion instead of kick the extra point in overtime. As a result, LSU rose eight spots in the poll and the Crimson Tide fell by four.

Kansas State plunged 10 spots to No. 23 after a loss to Texas, which re-entered the rankings at No. 18. Also returning was No. 20 Notre Dame, which dominated previously unbeaten Clemson. The Tigers fell seven spots to No. 12. They were No. 4 in the first CFP rankings.

Also falling seven places was No. 21 Illinois after a loss to Michigan State.

No. 24 Washington and No. 25 Florida State entered the Top 25. Oklahoma State, Wake Forest, Syracuse and Oregon State all fell out.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) scrambles out of pocket during the NCAA college football game against UT Martin on Saturday, October 22, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn.

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Tennessee, Ohio St., Georgia, Clemson top 4 in first CFP rankings

Tennessee earned the No. 1 spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season Tuesday night, followed by Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson and Michigan.

The Volunteers had not been ranked inside the top 15 in the nine-year history of the CFP, but thanks to an 8-0 record with a 52-49 win over Alabama as their signature victory, they topped the initial field with four weeks left in the regular season.

New CFP chairman Boo Corrigan — the athletic director at North Carolina State — cited the Vols’ strong wins as the factor that separated them from Ohio State and Georgia.

“I think the two wins that you’re looking at, with Alabama and at LSU, really sealed the deal for Tennessee,” Corrigan said in an interview on ESPN.

Tennessee plays at No. 3 Georgia in an SEC East battle on Saturday. Georgia, the defending national champion, was the No. 1 team in the latest AP Poll, with Tennessee tied for second.

The Buckeyes open the rankings at No. 2 following a 44-31 road victory over No. 15 Penn State. Ohio State has won all eight of its games by at least 11 points.

All top-five teams are 8-0. Prognosticators figured Michigan would be No. 4, but playoff regular Clemson was rewarded with that spot. The Tigers have beaten three other teams in the initial rankings — Wake Forest, NC State and Syracuse.

Alabama — 7-1 after a loss to Tennessee — came in at No. 6, ahead of unbeaten TCU at No. 7.

“We’re looking for a balanced team, offense and defense,” Corrigan said of TCU. “They’ve gotten behind in games.”

Oregon and Southern California gave the Pac-12 some representation at Nos. 8 and 9.

LSU was No. 10, five spots higher than its ranking in this week’s AP Poll. The Tigers are 6-2, with losses to Florida State and Tennessee but recent wins over Florida and Ole Miss, the latter of whom came in at No. 11.

See the full rankings below:

1. Tennessee
2. Ohio State
3. Georgia
4. Clemson
5. Michigan
6. Alabama
7. TCU
8. Oregon
9. Southern California
10. LSU
11. Ole Miss
12. UCLA
13. Kansas State
14. Utah
15. Penn State
16. Illinois
17. North Carolina
18. Oklahoma State
19. Tulane
20. Syracuse
21. Wake Forest
22. NC State
23. Oregon State
24. Texas
25. UCF

–Field Level Media

Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith arrives at the Dawg Walk before the start of a NCAA college football game between Vanderbilt and Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022.

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Georgia LB Nolan Smith doubtful for Tenn. showdown

Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith, the No. 1 Bulldogs’ leader in sacks, is doubtful for Saturday’s showdown with No. 2 Tennessee due to a shoulder injury.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart did not completely rule out the 6-foot-3, 235-pound senior for the matchup of the unbeaten Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0 SEC) and Volunteers (8-0, 4-0) in Athens, Ga.

Smart initially feared Smith had dislocated his shoulder in the first half of Saturday’s 42-20 win against Florida, but he said it is now believed to be a muscle injury.

“His availability has not been determined,” Smart told reporters Monday. “It does not look good for availability this week. It’s a pec muscle, so it’s one of those deals where we’ll do an MRI. We’re still getting some opinions on it, but he’s probably doubtful for this week.”

In addition to his team-high three sacks, Smith has 16 quarterback hurries and seven tackles for loss in eight games this season. He has 12.5 sacks and 110 tackles in 38 career games with the Bulldogs.

His absence is untimely to say the least, as Tennessee and Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Hendon Hooker lead the nation in scoring (49.4 points per game) and total offense (553.0 yards per game).

–Field Level Media