As Saturday night’s game began under the lights at Neyland Stadium, a familiar sight once again took the field. Cedric Tillman made his return to the starting lineup, six weeks removed from tightrope surgery to help speed up the recovery process of his high ankle sprain. Tillman suffered the injury after taking a low hit against Akron.
Tennessee proceeded to go beat Florida, LSU, Alabama and Kentucky in his absence. The staff played this one safe, even in his return against Kentucky. Tillman was on a pitch count last weekend as he shook off a little bit of rust.
As it turned out, the Volunteers didn’t need much from him on Saturday. The Tennessee defense carried the torch after the offense built a big lead. Tillman ended up catching just four passes for 22 yards. However, he didn’t suffer any setbacks, and it sounds like he’s set to be fully available for the No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown against Georgia.
“I think you could see what it meant to him to be back on the field with his teammates,” Heupel said. “After his first or second catch, you could see the emotion come out. Thought he played extremely well and just watching him run out there, he was fluid, natural, playing at full speed. Really like what he did. Obviously we had a plan. He practiced for a couple of weeks full speed before he got on the field. We kind of had a pitch count on him this past week. He’ll be ready to roll this week.”
We all understandably wondered what this offense would look like without its dominate force on the perimeter. I mean, did you watch that Pittsburgh game?
Turns out, it didn’t miss a beat — perhaps it even got better. Jalin Hyatt emerged from the shadows and threw his hat in the Heisman race. Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton have each had their big moments.
And now you officially add back an unrestricted Cedric Tillman just in time for Georgia. Tillman had a really good night against the Bulldogs a year ago, catching ten passes for 200 yards. He adds back another dimension of this attack to worry about, making things that much tougher on Kirby Smart and the Georgia defense.
With the SEC East crown on the line, Tennessee and Georgia are set for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS on Saturday. The Volunteers remain eight point underdogs.