And that means it’s time to slap on some orange and white lederhosen and gulp down the Tennessee-related thoughts sloshing around inside my brain.
1) Better late than never. That’s at least the message after seeing the Vols’ passing game click like it did. Yes, opponent. I know. Vanderbilt stinks to high heaven. But the timing was excellent, and Joe Milton was on the money, hitting players with quality throws. The way he stepped out of a tackle from a defender and slung a dart to Jacob Warren for a touchdown was very impressive. A terrific showing in his last game at Neyland Stadium. I called for Nico to get the majority of playing time because I think it’s what was best for the program moving forward, but Heupel stuck with Milton, and he delivered a memorable performance.
2) Along the same vein, Ramel Keyton (finally) had a game. 4 for 122 and 2 touchdowns, including a 56-yard score on the game’s third play. Again, yes, I know...opponent, but that’s the kind of explosiveness this team needed earlier in the year.
3) Jaylen Wright became the first Volunteer since Jalen Hurd in 2015 to reach the 1000-yard mark. His 75 yards on 11 carries put him at 1013 for the year. 7.4 yards per carry for the season. Just crazy. If that was his last game in Neyland Stadium (and he has every reason to leave and go capitalize on that momentum in the NFL despite my hope that he returns), then that’s a heck of a way to go.
4) I don’t blame Clark Lea for being irate at his quarterback getting hit on two plays that the officials were supposed to have blown dead. I also can’t say whether UT players heard a whistle. I sure didn’t on the broadcast, but I can’t speak for the field. Regardless, it didn’t look to me like the officials did enough on either play to keep AJ Swann from getting hit, and that’s not on Lea, and that’s likely not on Tennessee’s players either. That’s squarely on the officials. They failed miserably and the resulting scrum was largely their fault. Fortunately, it didn’t get to 2006 Miami-FIU with fists and helmets swinging. Cooler heads eventually prevailed.
5) As Terry noted yesterday, it appears the Vols are headed to Jacksonville to take on UNC in the Gator Bowl. That’s a relatively interesting matchup. If Drake Maye plays, it’s even more intriguing. If he doesn’t play, it’ll be easier for the Vols to win. Win-win either way, IMHO. While UNC isn’t a football name, it’s still a pretty important overall brand in the South, so seeing Tennessee face them would be fun. I think the Gator Bowl has a bit more of a nice ring to it than Music City or Duke’s Mayo, as well. Guess we’ll find out in a little under a week now.
6) Speaking of Tennessee and North Carolina, those two square off on the basketball court in Chapel Hill on Wednesday in the ACC/SEC Challenge. The Vols still have #24 Illinois and NC State left in non-conference play, but this marks the Vols’ last marquee name in the non-conference schedule. Winning inside the Dean Dome would give the Vols the big non-conference boost they missed out on last week against Purdue and Kansas. Another loss would continue to cast doubt on whether the Vols are a team truly capable of making it to Glendale, AZ in April.