A Tennessee story that shouldn’t be lost in the Playoff push

Hendon Hooker climbed the ladder and led the band in "Rocky Top" for his final act at Neyland Stadium, just as another all-time great Tennessee quarterback did a quarter century earlier.

The story Saturday was Hooker and the No. 5 Vols getting right after last week’s loss at Georgia, with style points — and maybe a couple knife twists — in a 66-24 obliteration of Missouri which was great for online casino odds. The focus remains on the hunt for the program’s first College Football Playoff appearance, which didn’t require a push toward 70 points and a school-record 724 yards but won’t suffer from those accumulations either. The image will be that one of Hooker playing conductor, and it will be replayed eternally just as the footage of Peyton Manning from 1997 was, and Hooker deserves to be in that company.

"I always thought that was like the coolest thing ever, to strike up the band," Hooker said of his Manning impersonation.

"He’ll be one of the greats, you know?" Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said of Hooker. "However it ends out, he’ll be one of the greats here."

The thing you may have missed Saturday was easy to miss. So many of them are missed every year in college football, because so many exist. Here’s a nod to one of them. As Hooker descended to the grass and his teammates dispersed, No. 11 headed toward the other end zone. No, not that No. 11 — that’s the thing about Tennessee sixth-year defensive end LaTrell Bumphus. He’s not just an unsung part of this team, he’s unsung among players who wear No. 11.

The high-profile 11, junior receiver Jalin Hyatt, probably played his last game at Neyland as well. The NFL is calling. Hyatt responded with seven catches for 146 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown in which he hid behind left guard Jerome Carvin before the snap and then found himself alone with the ball in open field, escorted to the end zone by receiver Bru McCoy.

The 11 we’re talking about had a couple of tackles in what will definitely be his final game in his home stadium. When UT backup quarterback Joe Milton hit freshman receiver Squirrel White on a 58-yard bomb in the waning seconds to set up the last score, Bumphus and fellow defensive lineman Omari Thomas whooped it up along with the rest of the UT sideline, all smiles and laughs. Then he made that walk all the way across the field, so he could reach up and hug parents Melissa and Keith Bumphus one more time before a locker room dance party.

"If people knew what that kid has been through to get here," Keith Bumphus said of the youngest of the couple’s two sons. "I think a lot of people would have given up."

LaTrell Bumphus, 6-foot-3, 290 pounds at 23 years old, playing the best ball of his career after knee injuries nearly derailed it, will take a shot at the NFL. Every aspect of his game — hand placement, diversity of moves, understanding of the tendencies of opponents, understanding of the bigger picture on the field — has benefited greatly from playing for defensive line coach Rodney Garner, he said. That gives him a shot.

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