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RECAP: Electric Vols’ offense grounds the Skyhawks, 65-24

Tennessee is 7-0. On to Kentucky.

NCAA Football: Tennessee-Martin at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee accomplished both the goals it set out for the Homecoming matchup with UT Martin: win, and end the game without any significant injuries.

SIGNIFICANT NOTE: The Vols wore light-blue accessories, honoring Tennessee LEGEND Pat Summitt, who was an All-American at UT Martin in her playing days.

UT won, handedly, but the defensive backfield that wasn’t good at full strength, nearly lost another piece when Brandon Turnage careened into the wall behind the endzone. The broadcast said later in the game that Turnage wouldn’t return to today’s game but should be good to go next week. I don’t know if I buy that diagnosis, given the way he looked shook when he got up after rolling into that wall.

Enough of that — the Tennessee offense put on an absolute SHOW against UT Martin, scoring 52 points in just the first half and an overall, season-high 696 total yards. LOL.

The Vols notched 21 first-quarter points, scoring on their first drive of the game with passes completed to Jalin Hyatt (44 yards), Ramel Keyton (six yards) and Bru McCoy (five yards) that was capped off by five-straight Jabari Small runs, including the one-yarder for the TD.

UT Martin tied the game up on their second drive of the game, going 75 yards in seven plays — a march downfield sparked by a 44-yard, explosive pass play that surely had Vols’ DC Tim Banks hollering obscenities into the headset. But that was the one and only scoring drive UT Martin had in the first half.

On Tennessee’s next drive, the Vols went to the “Hooker under center and Princeton Fant at fullback” package, and Fant scored on a one-yard rushing TD.

Fant had quite the first half: He had that first rushing TD, then he dropped a wide-open, woulda-been touchdown catch on what looked like a post or seam route down the middle. He scored his second rushing TD on where he lined up at fullback again and took a handoff from Hooker for an 11-yard score on a play where the offense had UT Martin’s defense flowing right and had Fant go around the left side of the OL.

AND THEN, Tennessee showed another wrinkle — a double pass, with Joe Milton throwing/ pitching the ball to Fant who hit Jalin Hyatt downfield for a 66-yard TD pass. Hyatt only gets credit for one catch, but he oughta get three receptions with the way he bobbled it and finally secured it as he ran down the field with not a defender in sight.

I’ve given “Fantom of the Dropra” Princeton Fant some criticism this year, but the staff is doing a great job at scheming to his strengths. I was really happy for him to have three TDs today.

Hyatt accounted for two of Tennessee’s four second-quarter TDs and finished his day before the end of the first half. He had seven catches for 174 yards and two scores — he’s got 13 catches, 381 yards and seven TDs in his past two games. That means he has more yards and TDs in his last two games (1.5 games, really, since he played one half today) than he had total in his individual 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Ramel Keyton, who has also stepped up in a major way since Cedric Tillman’s injury, caught one of the other TDs in the Vols’ Q2 offensive barrage and finished the game second on the team with five catches for 77 yards and two TDs.

By late in the second quarter, Joe Milton and the subs were in, which allowed guys like Dylan Sampson, Walker Merrill, Squirrel White and Jimmy Holiday to get in and make some plays. Sampson ended up leading the team in carries and yards, while Merrill had a couple nice grabs for 41 yards. White ending up having a career day — five catches for 122 yards, including a 64-yard bomb from Milton down the near sideline that White took to the checkerboards.

I’m not sure just yet who got run with second-team offensive line, but I’m glad they got to play because the unit doesn’t look that great. And the first-string group is likely to lose both Darnell Wright (who is rising up draft boards by the week since moving from left tackle last season to right tackle this season) and possibly Jerome Carvin (I’m not sure about his eligibly status with the COVID year — NFL scouts love his power and interior OL position versatility but aren’t sold on his flexibility/ ability to deal with speed rushers).

The second-half DBs looked overmatched by UT Martin’s starters, but it was good to get guys like freshmen Jourdan Thomas and Christian Harrison some considerable snaps outside of special teams’ duties. The Vols were without both starting corners in Christian Charles and Kamal Hadden, and Dee Williams looked like he struggled a bit in pass coverage on his snaps. But he showed once again he’s a weapon returning punts — he fielded four kicks and had 49 returns yards, with most of them coming on a 33-yarder in the second quarter.

Once the starters were out, the Vols defense allowed 17 points and 244 yards in basically two quarters. Heupel mentioned after the game he wasn’t real pleased with the performance of the bottom-of-the-depth-chart defense.

Tennessee had 13 penalties for 109 yards — not great.

The Vols have 5-2, 19th-ranked Kentucky coming to town next week. I have a feeling this game has been circled on the Wildcats’ schedule since last year’s Vols’ 45-42 dub in Lexington.

Hendon Hooker finished the game 18-24 for 276 yards and three TDs — the downplayed Heisman campaign rolls on.