And that means it’s time to grab the orange pickaxe, put on the checkerboard hard hat, and go pluck out the Tennessee-Volunteer-related nuggets of thought scattered throughout my brain.
1) Joe Milton was good. Again. Except even better this time. 18 of 21 passing for 228 yards with a score. And it wasn’t just the completion percentage - which was outstanding, by the way. It was him creating big moments when the game is on the line. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Games are won or lost on 3, 4, or 5 plays. In that range. Whether a big throw is made. Whether a penalty takes a touchdown off the board and results in a field goal. Whether a receiver makes a big catch in a key spot. Certain moments shape a game result.
2) The first was the touchdown to Chas Nimrod. Sure he was insanely wide open, but he’s still got to make the throw. And he did it perfectly in stride for a score. That couldn’t have been dropped in better if someone was standing above the end zone pylon on a ladder. For as much as Joe misfired earlier in the year, the touch on his deeper passes has gotten much better in the last couple of weeks.
3) The other that stood out was the 47-yard completion to Dont’e Thornton. Joe was pressured, escaped it, and found Thornton. To Dont’e’s credit, he managed to improvise, shake his defender, and make a play. The two of them made something very big out of a play that looked to be headed downhill, and it resulted in three points instead of a punt.
4) Milton’s 21 passing attempts were a pretty low number, but that was because the running game was clicking for much of the night. Man, the Vols have two absolute studs running the ball in Jaylen Wright and Dylan Sampson. As much as I love Jabari Small, he needs to play a very diminished role to those two now. #0 and #6 simply have to be 1a and 1b moving forward, with Small a distant third.
5) Defensively, that was a major disappointment, particularly from the secondary. Granted, the pass rush didn’t get home but once all night, but they were unable to stay with Kentucky’s WRs for much of the game, and Devin Leary had a good game as a result. 28/39, 372 yards, 2 touchdowns. That’s very disappointing, given just how badly Kentucky’s passing game was struggling. Kamal Hadden’s absence was VERY much felt.
6) Josh Heupel was noticeably annoyed after the game about no holding calls made against Kentucky. I can’t particularly blame him for being peeved with officiating. No live ball fouls called against either of Tennessee’s opponents for the last two games? That’s absolutely insane.
7) That being said, Tennessee had plenty of chances to win one on ones and create pressure when they weren’t held, and it didn’t happen. One sack. Have to be better going forward. The pass rush has been missing for a game and a half now.
8) Tennessee gets a layup on Saturday against UConn, although I’d advise them not to treat it like one. Then it’s at Mizzou - in what could be a real challenge - before hosting Georgia. If the Vols could get some help from Mizzou or Ole Miss against the Bulldogs before coming to Knoxville, then Tennessee could be playing Georgia for a trip to Atlanta.
Yes, I am daring to dream and it’s still a relative long shot Georgia will lose, but stranger things have happened.