Tennessee had the treats on Saturday night.
With dark mode engaged, the Vols dominated Kentucky to take a 44-6 victory inside Neyland Stadium to remain undefeated on the season.
The win sets the stage for a massive SEC Clash with Georgia in Athens next weekend. However on Saturday night, Tennessee made sure it was their night.
“These guys, the reasons we have found a way to be on the right side of it every week is because they have been focused, they have prepared, they have practiced, and they get themselves ready emotionally and physically to play hard once the ball is kicked off, all week long,” Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel said. “I thought we were very dialed in and locked into the process. Good teams get better throughout the season; this football team has to continue to get better as we get into the back third, back half of the season.”
While the offense delivered, the Tennessee defense stole the show.
“Defensively, I thought we did an unbelievable job controlling and dominating the line of scrimmage,” Heupel said. “We did a great job of matching out guys on the backend. We played real ball tonight, and it was suffocating defense. It was fun to watch those guys.”
The Tennessee defense limited Kentucky quarterback to just 98 yards as he went 16-of-27 and was sacked four times.
Juwan Mitchell, Doneiko Slaughter and Brandon Turnage all recorded interceptions off of Levis.
The Vols also limited Chris Rodriguez to 64 yards rushing on 15 attempts.
Tennessee held Kentucky to just 205 total offensive yards.
While the defense made life miserable for the Wildcats from the onset, the Tennessee offense got going and never looked back.
Hendon Hooked went 19-of-25 for 245 yards and three touchdowns, while also adding 23 yards on the ground.
It was a record setting day for Jalin Hyatt as the wide receiver set a school recording for touchdown catches in a season at 14 after he caught two scores against the Wildcats.
Hyatt finished with five catches for 138 yards.
“There is something to putting him in position; it is him going and making plays, it is Hendon making plays, and it is our offensive line protecting,” Heupel said of Hyatt. “At the end of the day, it is players, not coaches. Jalin has done a great job, but it takes all of those guys to do a great job for him to have the night that he has. He is playing at a really high level. His understanding of the game, playing with fundamentals and technique; it is special, the run that he has had the last four or five weeks in particular.”
Jabari Small led the Tennessee rushing attack with 79 yards on the 21 carries.
Tennessee wasted no time in getting the scoring started as Hyatt caught a Hooker pass for a 55-yard touchdown 1:37 into the game.
After the teams traded punts, Rodriguez scored for Kentucky on a three-yard run, but the extra point was blocked. That allowed Tennessee to take a 7-6 lead into the second quarter.
The Vol offense got things going in the second quarters Princeton Fant scored on a two-yard run, and Jaylen Wright scored on a short scamper to give Tennessee a 20-6 lead.
Right before the half, Hooker found an open Hyatt for a 31-yard touchdown to send the Vols to the locker room up 27-6.
“Defensively, getting a stop was critical right there,” Heupel said of the thought process going into the half. “I think it was maybe 27-6 at that point. For us, because you have a quarterback you can trust with the ball in his hands and a smart decision maker, you are able to be aggressive in some of those situations, and we trust our offensive line too. Obviously, they hit a few things that got us into the endzone and right to Jalin (Hyatt) on that drive.”
The Tennessee defense set the tone for the second half quickly as back-to-back sacks forced Kentucky to punt on the opening drive.
Chase McGrath added a 29-yard field goal and Hooker added an eight-yard touchdown run as the Vols held a 37-6 lead after three complete.
Small accounted for the final score when he caught a 13-yard pass from Hooker in the fourth.
Attention now turns to the Bulldogs in a top-five clash between the hedges.
“Certainly, it’s going to be a big ball game, great football team,” Heupel said. “We are going to enjoy this one tonight. I think it’s important that you enjoy the journey. I told the players before the game to enjoy the Vol Walk, enjoy running through the T. We built this type of energy because in the way that you’ve worked, competed. They’ll enjoy it tonight. The players will enjoy it when they get back on Monday. Staff will turn it around early tomorrow morning.”
“We understand it’s a really good football team we are getting ready to play. These are the type of games, you come to Tennessee because you want to be on this type of stage, you want to play in front of an audience that’s going to be captivated by these two football teams.”
For Heupel and his program, the fact they are in the college playoff conversation is exactly where they wanted the program – even if it is ahead of schedule.
“The first day that I took the job, I stood up here as I was getting introduced – this is what you envision,” Heupel said. “You started a journey. You understand the type of team that you want to build, how you want to play. Everybody together. You’re in the nuts and bolts, just continuing to grow, compete and get better every day. Small decision affects our growth. This group of individuals, it’s the group of individuals that chose to stay. They want to be here. They’ve grown individually in who they are, what they’re about and how they compete every day. Collectively, you can see that they care about each other. Once you start having a group like that, you can cover a lot of ground really quickly as a football program. Obviously, we’ve taken some huge strides.”
“Next week is another big test but one we’re looking forward to.”