Dan Fleser: Hooker's Play Generates Big-Game Vibes, Winning Or Losing

Tuesday, October 12, 2021 - by Dan Fleser

Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral became a candidate for the Heisman Trophy before Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker nailed down the Vols’ starting job.

To say Hooker has closed some ground during the past month is like confirming a little bit of water flows over Niagara Falls. He has presided over 28-point first quarters during the past two games. The output for 15 minutes has been nearly seven points better than the Vols averaged for the 10 games of last season.

The 6-foot-4, 218-pound redshirt senior has thrown multiple touchdown passes in five consecutive games, becoming the first Tennessee QB to string together such productivity since Tyler Bray in 2012. His TD passes match Hooker’s career high, which he set at Virginia Tech in 2019. In the process, he has not thrown an interception in 90 consecutive attempts.

Hooker’s QB passer rating of 185.87 ranks fifth nationally and first in the SEC, one spot ahead of Corral (182.43).

Hooker’s play is one of the biggest reasons why Saturday’s visit from the Rebels is generating big-game vibes. Neyland Stadium will be checkered orange and white for the occasion. Vols coach Josh Heupel took time during his Monday press briefing to encourage fans not only to dress for the occasion but also be in the proper frame of mind for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

“We need it to be a hostile environment,” Heupel said. “We need to make it tough for those guys to communicate. Our fans understand that they’re playing with tempo in their communication. We need to make it loud and make it uncomfortable for them.”

In the midst of all this hype, Hooker would be advised to maintain his low-key approach. It has served him well since becoming the starter against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 18. After throwing for 225 yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina last Saturday, Hooker passed the credit to his teammates.

“The guys around me really elevate my game to another level,” he said. “So, with the ball in my hands, and those guys around me, the whole offense is feeling confident.”

With the football in his hands, Hooker has executed two essentials to UT’s explosive play. First, he has made the deep throws, the ones the Vols were missing on earlier this season. His early TD passes to JaVonta Payton the past two weeks were examples of touchdown passes Tennessee wasn’t completing before.

On his 39-yarder to Payton last week, Hooker set up the score with a strong run fake. Afterward, Heupel conceded in a Vol Network interview that Hooker’s 20 carries might have been too many. He’s run enough so far to be effective – 66 carries for 282 yards and three touchdowns – and force opposing defenses to honor the threat. Another Hooker run fake helped set up Tiyon Evans’ 45-yard touchdown run against the Gamecocks.

Offensive coordinator Alex Golesh noticed Hooker’s calm demeanor as early as last spring.

Hooker’s emergence as UT’s starter has revealed another competitive character trait.

“He is a certifiable dude in terms of toughness, Golesh said.

It’s worth noting that Golesh said he was prouder of Hooker’s play in Tennessee’s loss at Florida than he was a week later in routing Missouri. Even when the Vols were down, Hooker didn’t change. 

“When you know what you’re going to get from your quarterback,” Golesh said, “it makes it really, really simple in terms of: you know he’s going to execute the play to the best of his ability and it’s going to go to the right spot, which makes it really simple from our end.”
             
* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at ddanfleser3@gmail.com.


Covenant Men Fourht, Women Ninth At Berry Invitational

Covenant Men Win 6-2 At Huntingdon

Covenant Volleyball Wins Two In USA South Play


In the final tune-up before the USA South Championships in two weeks, the Covenant cross country teams had strong showings at the Berry Invitational on a chilly Saturday morning at the Clara ... (click for more)

The Covenant men's soccer team extended its unbeaten streak to nine games with its 6-2 victory over Huntingdon. The Scots improve to 2-0-2 in the USA South and 7-3-3 overall. Covenant ... (click for more)

The Covenant women's volleyball team got two more conference wins at Saturday's tri-match hosted by LaGrange. The Scots were able to take match one over LaGrange in five sets and match two ... (click for more)



Sports

Covenant Men Fourht, Women Ninth At Berry Invitational

In the final tune-up before the USA South Championships in two weeks, the Covenant cross country teams had strong showings at the Berry Invitational on a chilly Saturday morning at the Clara Bowl in Mount Berry. The men's team placed fourth overall in the 16-team field, while the women were ninth. The men finished ahead of USA South foes Piedmont, Huntingdon, and Maryville. ... (click for more)

Covenant Men Win 6-2 At Huntingdon

The Covenant men's soccer team extended its unbeaten streak to nine games with its 6-2 victory over Huntingdon. The Scots improve to 2-0-2 in the USA South and 7-3-3 overall. Covenant did not wait long to strike first, as Parker Owen would score his third goal of the season in the 10th minute, giving his team the 1-0 lead. The score was assisted by Keegan Weekley. From ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Hamilton County Has Another Coronavirus Death And 109 New Cases: State Has 60 More Deaths

The Hamilton County Health Department reported one more coronavirus death on Friday and 109 new positive cases, no change from Thursday. The total number of cases in the county now stands at 63,193. The death total is at 638. It is reported the death was a woman, age 81 or older. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is 142 in Hamilton County - down from 148 on Thursday. ... (click for more)

Whitfield Casts Deciding Vote To Allow Affordable Housing Apartment Project On Happy Valley Road

The Walker County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 on Thursday night to approve the rezoning for a 156-unit affordable housing development across from Ridgeland High School. Chairman Shannon Whitfield broke a 2-2 tie, voting in favor of the rezone. This was the first time Chairman Whitfield has voted on a decision under the new form of government. Commissioner Mark Askew ... (click for more)

Opinion

Why Mandates Are Ridiculous - And Response

Hamilton County COVID cases 62,525 Hamilton County COVID deaths 638 By my math 62525/638 = 0.012 percent 0.012 percent of people that got COVID died from it 99.988 percent survived including myself I just wanted to point out how ridiculous vaccine mandates really are and how COVID hysteria, driven by the media and federal government, is unwarranted. Vaccines reduce ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Saturday Funnies

Hooray for The Saturday Funnies! Before we begin with some wonderful one-liners from some of history’s greatest people, let me remind you we don’t write the Funnies. Instead they are gleaned from the emails we gather from those that are sent to us each week. If you have a great funny, please send it to royexum@aol.com and we’ll share it. * * * GREAT ONE-LINERS FROM THE WORLD’S ... (click for more)