Not only did Tennessee get over the hump and beat Florida on Saturday, but they did it without perhaps their second best player. Cedric Tillman missed the game against the Gators after suffering a high-ankle sprain against Akron, which pushed Ramel Keyton up a notch on the depth chart.
And things didn’t look all that different.
Keyton hauled in three catches for 69 yards, none bigger than his diving grab to set Tennessee up to score before halftime. That 43 yard catch was part of the pivotal 99 yard drive that resulted in a touchdown and a 17-14 lead for the Volunteers at the break.
It was a diving, full-extension catch — a truly remarkable moment.
“Ramel’s catch is a great example, but that’s just one play that he made on Saturday,” Heupel said on Wednesday. “Greatest tribute you can give to him, man, is there wasn’t anything that was different about what we did and you could see the trust that Hendon had in him.”
Tennessee was missing their big-play threat in Tillman, a guy that routinely is able to beat man coverage down the field. However, Alex Golesh and Josh Heupel schemed up enough chunk plays to stay in the driver’s seat. Jacob Warren, Bru McCoy and Jabari Small were able to capitalize on Florida’s defensive breakdowns to change the game.
But it was the seldom-used Keyton beating man coverage on that key drive to deliver for Tennessee. Also, what a throw here from Hendon Hooker.
Very next play, Hendon Hooker ID’s man-cover on outside and smartly attacks it. Great job by WR Ramel Keyton stacking CB and making full layout grab. @henhook2 has been aggressive taking downfield shots this year & pretty trajectory here letting Keyton run under it. 2/3 pic.twitter.com/X5cpgjKq7P— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) September 26, 2022
“When the ball went his way, he came away with it and made plays – on the catch, but then after the catch, too – and his play down the sideline was a huge turning point in the football game,” Heupel said. “Allowed us to be aggressive in the two-minute situation and go get points. Able to flip the scoreboard there with the 14-point swing.”
Tennessee scored before halftime, then after halftime. A 14-10 game turned into a 24-14, just like that.
For Keyton, it may have been a career defining moment. The former four-star receiver just never really emerged over the last three seasons, but now he’s a key piece of depth for the Volunteers. And on Saturday against the Gators, Tennessee’s WR4 made one of the biggest plays of the day. Tennessee fans won’t ever forget it, either.
Keyton is now up to eight catches for 183 yards on the year, which is already a career high. Coming into the season, we were all wondering what this receiver group would look like. Through four games, Tennessee has proven to have a stout top three, along with some very capable and experienced depth.