Jan 1, 2024; Orlando, FL, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Nico Iamaleava (8) poses with the MVP Trophy after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports

Report: NCAA eyeing Tennessee for possible NIL violations

The NCAA is investigating the Tennessee football program for possible NIL violations, Sports Illustrated and CBS reported Tuesday.

According to reports, the case centers around quarterback Nico Iamaleava, a Class of 2023 five-star recruit.

Iamaleava signed a lucrative name, image and likeness deal with Spyre Sports Group, Tennessee’s primary collective.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported last year that Iamaleava’s NIL deal was worth $8 million.

Tennessee has not received a formal notice of allegations from the NCAA, the university told news outlets.

Iamaleava appeared in five games for the Volunteers in the 2023 season. The freshman was named the Citrus Bowl MVP after rushing for three touchdowns and passing for one touchdown in a 35-0 win against Iowa on Jan. 1.

–Field Level Media

Nov 25, 2023; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Nico Iamaleava (8) passes the ball against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa sets sights on Nico Iamaleava, Tennessee in Citrus Bowl

A quarterback making his first career start would not likely list Iowa among ideal opening opponents.

But that’s the reality for Tennessee’s Nico Iamaleava as he leads the No. 21 Volunteers against the No. 17 Hawkeyes in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day at Orlando.

Sixth-year senior Joe Milton III opted out of the Citrus Bowl on Wednesday, which elevated the highly touted Iamaleava into the starting role.

Iamaleava attempted 26 passes as a freshman this season and attempts to solve an Iowa defense that entered the bowl season ranked fourth in scoring defense (13.2 points per game) and fifth in total defense (274.8 yards per game).

“I finally get to go out there and showcase my talents as a starter. It should be fun,” Iamaleava said.

“It’s my first start and it’s going against a top-5 defense, I’m ready for the challenge. And I’m ready to go out there and compete with my brothers.”

Tennessee (8-4) is averaging 31.5 points per game but certainly will be hard-pressed to approach that output with Milton and running backs Jaylen Wright (1,013 rushing yards) and Jabari Small (475) all skipping the game. Dylan Sampson (471 rushing, team-high eight total touchdowns) will be the main back.

Meanwhile, Iowa (10-3) allowed 16 or fewer points in 11 of its 13 games and allowed one touchdown or less 10 times. The stellar performance earned defensive coordinator Phil Parker the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach.

Parker is in his 12th season as defensive coordinator and his 25th campaign on the Hawkeyes’ staff.

“He is one of a kind, and I am so happy that he has been by my side in this program throughout the past 25 years,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Star linebacker Jay Higgins has 155 tackles, second nationally, and needs 17 to pass Andre Jackson (171 in 1972) as Iowa’s single-season leader.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel has broken down the Hawkeyes’ defense and is impressed.

“It’s not just the numbers that say they’ve got a really good defense, you can watch the film. They’re dialed in,” Heupel said. “They make you earn it. They don’t give up a bunch of big plays, that’s in the pass game and in the run game.

“They’re really good on third downs, getting off the football field. They adjust during the course of the ball game extremely well to the things that they’re seeing.”

Higgins also supplied great news to the Hawkeyes by announcing he will return in 2024. Iowa safety Sebastian Castro (team-best three interceptions) said he will announce his decision “a day or two after the game.”

Castro also said that facing Iamaleava instead of Milton doesn’t affect the Hawkeyes’ preparations.

“The game plan not’s changing,” Castro said. “They spread out, and they like to throw the ball.”

The Volunteers’ four losses came by an average of 21 points despite the fact they allow just 22 points per game.

The defense gave up 98 points over the last three games but could get well quickly against an Iowa offense that was shut out twice and scored 20 or fewer points nine times. The Hawkeyes average just 16.6 points and 239.3 yards per game.

Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, son of the head coach, will be running the offense for the final time after the school announced this would be his final season in late October.

Quarterback Deacon Hill has passed for 1,096 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions since replacing Cade McNamara, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in Iowa’s fifth game.

The Hawkeyes don’t have a single player with 30 receptions or 300 receiving yards.

Iowa is 18-16-1 in bowl games and has won four of its last five. The Volunteers are 29-25.

This is the fourth all-time meeting. Tennessee holds a 2-1 edge and won the last meeting, 45-28 in the TaxSlayer Bowl (Gator Bowl) following the 2014 season.

–Field Level Media

Oct 14, 2023; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee defensive back Kamal Hadden (5) raises his hands in the air during a football game between Tennessee and Texas A&M at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. Mandatory Credit: Saul Young-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee CB Kamal Hadden (shoulder surgery) out for season

Tennessee starting cornerback Kamal Hadden will miss the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery Thursday.

Hadden, a redshirt senior, was hurt in Thursday’s 34-20 loss at then-No. 11 Alabama. He had racked up three interceptions through seven games, including a pick-6 against South Carolina.

Hadden is tied for third in all of FBS with 11 passes defended.

“I was just getting comfortable, the work was just starting to show, I was showing the world what I already knew,” Hadden wrote in an Instagram post. “My last year, my bag year, and I strike out. I feel like I let everybody down. The fam, gang, the team, everybody. But I always took the longer route, I always was in a fight with adversity, I always had it a lil harder, I always wanted it a lil tougher cause at the end the win a lil more greater.”

Hadden had six interceptions in three seasons with the Volunteers.

Tennessee (5-2, 2-2 SEC) will visit Kentucky on Saturday.

–Field Level Media

The helmet of Florida Gators wide receiver Ja'Quavion Fraziars (0) before the game against the Eastern Washington Eagles at Steve Spurrier Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Sunday, October 2, 2022. [Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun]

Ncaa Football Florida Gators Vs Eastern Washington Eagles

Three Florida players, one Tennessee player suspended over fight

The Southeastern Conference suspended four players for one half of their upcoming games over their roles in a scuffle at the end of Florida’s 29-16 win over then-No. 11 Tennessee last Saturday.

The SEC released a statement Monday saying Florida offensive linemen Damieon George Jr. and Micah Mazzccua and tight end Dante Zanders were suspended for the first half of Florida’s home game against Charlotte this Saturday. Tennessee defensive lineman Omarr Norman-Lott will sit the first half of the Volunteers’ home game against UTSA.

The four players were being punished for “flagrant unsportsmanlike actions,” according to the conference.

“The suspensions were determined after video review and consultation between the Southeastern Conference Office, the University of Florida and the University of Tennessee,” the SEC’s statement said.

Florida was in the process of sealing its win over the visiting Vols when quarterback Graham Mertz scrambled and took a knee in the final seconds. Tennessee’s Omari Thomas ran into Mertz, inciting a benches-clearing fracas in which Mazzccua threw a punch.

George and Mazzccua were Florida’s starting right tackle and right guard, respectively, to begin the season. Zanders is a backup tight end, while Norman-Lott started each of Tennessee’s past two games.

Thomas was penalized for targeting, but the officials overturned their call after review, meaning he will not be suspended for the first half of Tennessee’s game against UTSA.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee offensive lineman Mo Clipper Jr. (56) Tennessee wide receiver Squirrel White (10) and Tennessee running back Dylan Sampson (6) after a game between Tennessee and Virginia in Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. Tennessee defeated Virginia 49-13.

No. 9 Tennessee eager for home opener vs. Austin Peay

After a smooth start in Music City, No. 9 Tennessee returns to Rocky Top for Saturday’s home opener against Austin Peay in Knoxville.

“Looking forward to seeing 102,000 of our closest friends,” Volunteers coach Josh Heupel said. “For our program, it has been a long time since we have been inside that stadium with our fans, and we look forward to that.”

The Volunteers (1-0) kicked off the season with a 49-13 win against Virginia in Nashville last Saturday, the same day the Governors (0-1) were handed a 49-23 defeat at Southern Illinois.

Tennessee’s Joe Milton III, the SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week, passed for two touchdowns and rushed for two more against the Cavaliers. Jaylen Wright ran for 115 yards and Dylan Sampson scored three rushing TDs as the Volunteers outgained Virginia 499-201.

Special teams was perhaps the biggest concern this week after Josh Turbyville booted two kickoffs out of bounds and Dee Williams fumbled a punt return against Virginia.

“All in all, I thought they performed well,” Heupel said. “There were some things early in the football game that everybody saw. We were not quite in sync. We’re not far off, either. I anticipate us continuing to grow and shore those things up.”

Austin Peay, an FCS member of the new United Athletic Conference, finished 7-4 last season but was outclassed by the Salukis in Week 1. The Governors trailed 28-0 at halftime and 42-3 entering the fourth quarter before Mike DiLiello threw a couple of touchdown passes.

Austin Peay turned it over three times, including an interception returned for a touchdown, and managed only 39 rushing yards on 23 carries. SIU outgained Austin Peay by a 432-253 margin and had a 15:20 advantage in time of possession.

“It starts with me,” Governors coach Scotty Walden said. “I want to apologize to Gov nation, our fan base, our school. This place deserves better and we’re going to give them better every week.”

DiLiello passed for 2,480 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 446 yards and eight scores last season, when Austin Peay posted games with 38, 41, 52 and 63 points.

“Defensively, (we) have to handle tempo,” Heupel said of the Governors. “They will spread the football field, RPO game. We have to do a really good job on perimeter screens, defeat blocks and make tackles in space. The line of scrimmage will be everything for us.”

Volunteers receiver Squirrel White left with an injury in the second half against Virginia but Heupel said he could have returned if necessary. Tennessee played without starting center Cooper Mays and defensive lineman Elijah Simmons and their status for Saturday is unclear.

Tennessee thumped Austin Peay 45-0 on Aug. 31, 2013, in the only previous meeting between the programs.

Tennessee will unveil its new “Artful Dodger” Smokey Grey uniforms on Saturday to honor trailblazing Volunteers quarterback Condredge Holloway, the first Black player to start under center for an SEC program. From 1972-74, he guided UT to a 25-9-2 record as a starter while passing for 3,102 yards and rushing for 966.

–Field Level Media

Nov 23, 2019; Columbia, MO, USA; A general view of a Tennessee Volunteers helmet during the second half against the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Vols avoid bowl ban, fined $8M for 200-plus violations

The Tennessee football program was placed on five years’ probation and fined $8 million on Friday after the NCAA discovered more than 200 violations during former coach Jeremy Pruitt’s tenure.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions also cut 28 scholarships for the Volunteers, while Pruitt received a six-year show cause and will be suspended for the first full season if another school hires him.

Pruitt compiled a 16-19 record in three seasons in Knoxville from 2018-20. He worked as a senior defensive assistant for the New York Giants in 2021, his most recent employment in major football.

Tennessee avoided a bowl ban. The Volunteers went 11-2 last season under coach Josh Heupel and won the Orange Bowl.

The NCAA charged the program with 18 Level 1 violations in July 2022. They included charges that Pruitt and his wife, Casey, provided $60,000 in impermissible benefits and cash payments to players’ families.

Tennessee self-imposed several penalties after the violations were announced, including a 16-scholarship reduction over the past two seasons.

The Volunteers open the season against Virginia on Sept. 2 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.

–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

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

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) scrambles with the ball during an NCAA college football game against Florida on Saturday, September 24, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn.

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No. 3 Alabama faces toughest test yet at No. 6 Tennessee

After surviving a near-upset last week at home and slipping from No. 1 to No. 3 in the rankings, Alabama faces its toughest challenge to date Saturday in an SEC showdown against No. 6 Tennessee in Knoxville.

It’s the second time this season the Crimson Tide have fallen out of the top spot, and coach Nick Saban expects his team to respond similarly to its previous dip. After a one-point win at Texas on Sept. 10, Alabama fell from No. 1 to No. 2 and promptly scored 167 points in its next three games, beating Louisiana-Monroe, Vanderbilt and Arkansas by an average of 44 points.

But none of those teams have shown the mettle that the Volunteers have displayed this season. Josh Heupel’s club has become one of college football’s surprising success stories of 2022.

Alabama (6-0, 3-0) has won 15 in a row against Tennessee (5-0, 2-0), with the Vols’ last win coming in Knoxville in 2006 — the year before Saban became the Tide’s coach.

The Vols, who went 7-6 with a loss to Purdue in the Music City Bowl last year, are 5-0 for the first time since 2016 with wins over three ranked opponents, including a dominant 40-13 rout at LSU last Saturday.

“We really just take it as a grain of salt, not getting too high, not getting too low, just staying even-keeled and making sure we’re doing our job every day,” Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker said this week.

Hooker, a redshirt senior transfer from Virginia Tech, is one of the primary reasons for the early success.

He leads the SEC with a 179.49 passer rating, completing 98 of 140 passes for 1,432 yards with 10 touchdowns — all with no interceptions. Hooker has also 231 yards rushing with three touchdowns.

A major question surrounding QBs in this game is the status of Alabama starter Bryce Young, who missed last week’s narrow 24-20 win over Texas A&M after leaving the Crimson Tide’s previous game against Arkansas with a right shoulder injury.

Saban was hopeful that Young would be available to play against Tennessee.

“Hopefully we’re going to try to get him ready to play this week,” Saban said Monday. “But this is something nobody can predict how quickly he’ll get an opportunity to do what he needs to do.”

Freshman Jalen Milroe started last week and threw three touchdown passes, but also lost two fumbles and threw an interception.

Milroe has completed 28 of 46 passes for 262 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, and has been a threat running the ball, gaining 244 yards and a touchdown on 29 attempts.

“I just think Jalen played with a lot of anxiety,” Saban said. “I don’t think he allowed himself to let his training guide him and trust and believe in it so he could have success in executing plays. You can’t turn the ball over and not execute plays the way they’re designed relative to the read of what you should and shouldn’t do.”

Alabama is averaging 6.99 yards a carry, led by Jahmyr Gibbs with 532 yards (third best in the SEC). Tennessee ranks second in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 2.79 yards per carry and 89.2 per game.

“In the run game, you are best to not let (Gibbs) get started,” Heupel said. “If he does, he has the ability to take it the distance. He has good vision and pace behind the line of scrimmage. When he sees a hole, he is able to hit it. He does a really good job of making people miss, too.”

–Field Level Media