While they didn’t cover, the Tennessee Volunteers did their best to end the regular season on a high note. Credit to Josh Heupel for trying to boost Joe Milton’s draft value this late in the season, and credit to this passing attack for getting the job done. This was the offense I think many people expected to see all season back in September, and even though it wasn’t the best season offensively by any stretch, there’s value in putting up a performance like this late in the year to gain some momentum for bowl season. Here are five key takeaways from Tennessee’s win over Kentucky.
Joe Milton leaves Neyland on a high note
What could be said about Joe Milton that hasn’t already been shouted from peaks of the Smoky Mountains. Tennessee fans have seen miserable performances, ie Texas A&M, and outstanding ones, ie Kentucky. This was one of those outstanding performances. He tallied over 380 yards and accounted for all six of Tennessee’s touchdowns — and it’s tough to not be incredibly happy for the kid. Someone who could have transferred after losing his spot two years ago, sticking around as a backup, and now has the opportunity to close out his career in a semi-decent bowl game against a Power 5 opponent. And while there were many lows, it was good to see Joe leave Neyland today with a major high.
WR Group has their best game of the season
It’s felt like more often than not Tennessee’s receivers have made more plays to hurt the team than help it. Today, that was not the case. Tennessee’s offense featured nine different pass catchers — including a 10-catch performance from Squirrel White and a two touchdown game from Ramel Keyton, one of which featured some major yards-after-catch.
Tennessee didn’t overlook their opponent
This might seem like a “yeah, no s***” takeaway, but this Tennessee team was coming off of two bad losses in a row and very easily could have mailed this game in. They didn’t do that. Instead, the offense had it’s best passing game of the season and put up over 600 total yards — a breath of fresh air compared to most conference games this year. It’s something that doesn’t seem like much in the moment, but Tennessee won a game they had to win, and that should count for something.
Tennessee’s patchwork defense was able to do enough
It’s no secret that Tennessee’s defense came into this game with a myriad of injuries — and many people were wondering if they could use this as a “get right” game. Well, I don’t necessarily think one could count this as a get right game, but Tennessee fans can certainly count it as a “I guess they didn’t do anything to cost us” game. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Despite giving up 24 points, Tennessee’s defense was still able to hold Vanderbilt to 2.6 yards per carry and under 230 passing yards — while totaling seven tackles for a loss and a couple of sacks in the process.
Brawls aren’t fun, even in rivalry games
Not going to harp on this one for too long. Keep it short and sweet. Tennessee still has something to play for. Vanderbilt does not. Having major contributors get involved in a fight like that is not smart, and hopefully won’t happen again. Also, in typical Tennessee football fashion, they had too many damn penalties. 10 for 108 yards isn’t going to beat anyone good — and that doesn’t include the missed late hit call that started the brawl in the first place. It’s been a theme all year with this team and it’s something we should all hope gets left in 2023.