The tweet from the national sportswriter was a bit premature.
“Unsurprisingly, the hangover is strong in Knoxville,’’ wrote Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated after UT-Martin tied Tennessee at 7-7 in the first quarter Saturday afternoon.
Not so fast, my friend.
Tennessee went from 7-all to a 52-7 lead in the second quarter, proving that a letdown isn’t a guarantee after you upset top-ranked Alabama.
Tennessee was so dominant, quarterback Hendon Hooker called it a day before halftime. The damage was done in the form of 276 passing yards and three touchdowns as the Vols waltzed past the Skyhawks 65-24 at homecoming.
Hooker broke Heath Shuler’s record by throwing a touchdown pass in 19 consecutive games.
“It’s a blessing,’’ Hooker said.
Hooker said he hadn’t yet talked to Shuler yet but he got a message from Shuler’s son, Navy, a backup UT quarterback.
“Navy said, `You got to get a picture with my Dad after you break the record,’’’ Hooker said.
Wide receiver Jalin Hyatt picked up where he left off last week, grabbing seven passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Hyatt now has 12 touchdown receptions to not only lead the nation but come within one of the UT single-season school record.
One of those TD catches was a 66-yarder that came from tight end Princeton Fant, who made a beautiful throw after taking a lateral from Joe Milton III.
“I was definitely excited,’’ Fant said when the trick play was called. “It’s something we’ve been practicing and talking about.’’
Fant said he wasn’t nervous when his number was called nor was he surprised since he and Coach Josh Heupel had been talking about running that play for a while.
Fant said he was messing around during practice throwing a football when Heupel said, “Man, you got an arm.’’
Fant said he can throw a football from midfield and hit the goal posts. He also said that during practice, he’s hit that pass every time.
So how many times has he done it in practice?
“A couple of times,’’ he said with a smile.
Hooker was asked if he fears Fant might take his job.
“I’m not worried about `P’ taking my job,’’ Hooker said, laughing. “But we see `P’ throw the ball all the time. It’s a thing of beauty.’’
Hooker, Hyatt and Fant weren’t the only stars for the Vols.
Freshman wideout Squirrel White had five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. He beat the secondary on a couple of deep balls by a sizeable margin.
Another bright spot was cornerback Will Wright, who was pressed into duty last week on the final series against Alabama. Wright got the start and picked off a pass in the first quarter.
Based on the call of defensive coordinator Tim Banks, Wright said he was in “vision coverage. I had my eye on the quarterback. I saw the route, saw the throw and jumped it.’’
At that time, UT was down five defensive backs. Kamal Hadden, Jalen McCullough, Christian Charles and Warren Burrell (out for the season) did not play, and Brandon Turnage suffered a head injury when he slammed into the padded brick wall out of the North end zone.
The secondary allowed 316 passing yards, but most of that came in garbage time, after the Vols led by 45 points.
The bigger issue is how many will return for the Kentucky game.
A year ago, Kentucky scored 42 points and Will Levis passed for 372 yards.
That wasn’t enough to beat Tennessee last year.
It might not be enough to beat the Vols this year, either, not at the record pace UT is scoring.
You can toss the results of UT-Martin out the window.
But Tennessee hung 52 on Alabama. 40 on LSU and 38 on Florida.
The Vols have proven that even if the defense is deficient, the offense can pick up the slack.
And that might be the case this Saturday when Kentucky rolls into Knoxville.