Dan Fleser: The Vols went into business as it approached

Dan Fraser

Dan Fraser

Tennessee’s lead narrowed to 4 points, and Tennessee kicked off a soccer game Saturday afternoon with a kids game.

Vols wide receiver Jalin Hyatt screened in the backcourt, starting a hide-and-seek sequence. He went down with a three-pointer, basically hiding on the left side of the offensive line.

Quarterback Hendon Hooker spotted the Hyatt pass after rushing out of the backcourt. The catch-and-catch game in the third quarter resulted in a 68-yard touchdown. It also started a six-point onslaught that turned some tense moments into a 66-24 victory over Missouri State by 101,915 seconds ago at Neyland Stadium.

“It’s been in my pocket for a while,” UT coach Josh Heupel said of the game.

Hooker, who had 405 yards and four touchdowns, citing TD passing indirectly, said, “It’s good to have my guys playing in the open field.”

Heupel likely considered both the game and the onslaught in an interview with Vol Network, when he summed up the team’s reaction after the Tigers took a 28-24 lead.

“Don’t panic, reset, and then you can play the next game on your own,” he said. “We have some offensive things.”

Do they have.

The 724 yards total offense is a school record. 66 points is the team’s highest score. 5 Vols (9-1, 5-1 SEC) in the Heupel era. They averaged 9.7 yards per game against Missouri (4-6, 2-4), the fourth-best scoring defense in the SEC, with 21.4 points per game.

Hyatt has seven catches for 146 yards and now has 1,116 this season.

Led by freshman Dylan Sampson’s 98 yards, Walls rushed for 264 yards and five touchdowns. Sampson and teammates Hooker and Jabari Small combined for at least 26 yards in three rushing games.

All of these pieces overshadowed some early defensive struggles and formed an overwhelming response to last Saturday’s loss to Georgia.

“I’m happy with the way we responded to the adversity last week,” said tight end Princeton Fant, who caught two touchdown passes. “We come in to handle business.”

Notes and observations:

– Missouri quarterback Brady Cook accounted for 323 yards of total offense. He threw two TD passes and rushed for a game-high 106 yards.

Walls’ best response to Cook arguably came from his offense, which outweighed his performance.

— Wide receiver Cedric Tillman missed Saturday’s game, but Hepper said the senior wide receiver’s absence was not related to his ankle injury earlier in the season.

“In the long run, it’s better to let him rest,” Heupel said. “He’ll be ready (next week) for South Carolina.”

— When backup quarterback Joe Milton III came on the court in the fourth quarter, Hooker said, “Joe, throw me one.”

In his second game, Milton threw a 47-yard TD pass to Lamel Keaton. Later, Milton nearly threw another. He threw a 58-yard pass to Squirrel White with 36 seconds left, allowing Sampson to score from 2 yards.

Missouri coach Ilya Drinkwitz isn’t casting a shadow over Tennessee by throwing too deep with the game already decided. He told St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “(Heupel) coaches his team; I coach our team. I have no problem with their team and what they do.”

– Tennessee is undefeated at home for the first time since 2007, and Heupel said fans played a “huge role” in that achievement.

After a Hooker-to-Hyatt TD pass, Heupel counseled the crowd and responded. Missouri was whistled for three false start penalties and sent off on the next possession.

“Our fans, couldn’t be more grateful for them,” he said. “Playing in Neyland is a huge advantage for us when we go out, there should only be one way for us as a football team. I’m talking about how hard we played.”

He encouraged fans to follow Walls to South Carolina next Saturday.

“We need Big Orange Country,” Heupel said.


Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri and has been in charge of athletics at the University of Tennessee ever since

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