Dan Fleser: Short-Handed Vols Had No Trouble Disposing Of Vandy

  • Sunday, November 27, 2022
  • Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

A Thanksgiving-sized gathering of Tennessee football players got together on Saturday. Quarterback Hendon Hooker and several Vols all convened on the injury report for the game against Vanderbilt.

Four defensive backs – Trevon Flowers, Brandon Turnage, Doneiko Slaughter and De’Shawn Rucker - were sidelined beforehand, along with receivers Cedric Tillman and Bru McCoy. Offensive lineman Gerald Mincey was out from the start and fellow lineman Jerome Carvin and Jeremiah Crawford joined him during the game.

“We were a MASH unit everywhere,” UT coach Josh Heupel said.

Yet the Vols closed their thinned ranks and mashed the Commodores 56-0, finishing the regular season with 10 victories for the first time since 2003.

The defense recorded the program’s first SEC shutout since the Vols blanked the Commodores to end that ’03 season. Running backs Jabari Small, Jaylen Wright and Dylan Sampson took charge of the offense in Hooker’s absence, amassing four long touchdown runs and nearly all of UT’s 362 rushing yards. For good measure, special teams chipped in a touchdown.

“There’s no asterisk next to a win or loss about who did or didn’t play,” Heupel said. “It’s a win or loss forever.”

The thoroughness of the victory afforded Heupel a bully pulpit of sorts. In all his postgame interviews, he made a point of defending the program’s culture. The Vols had come under fire for last Saturday’s 63-38 rout at South Carolina. Heupel fielded a question on Monday about the circumstances surrounding linebacker Jeremy Banks’ absence for the game and whether he was involved in an altercation with a teammate and disciplined.

Banks played against Vanderbilt, recording seven tackles, a half tackle for lost yardage and breaking up two passes.

“He was purposeful and wanted to play well,” Heupel said. “It meant something to play with the guys around him.

“Yeah, sure (the culture was tested). In the way that we were highly disappointed in how we played a week ago. How do you handle adversity, man? It matters.”

Notes and thoughts:

-Backup QB Joe Milton was 11-for-21 passing for 147 yards and a touchdown. He overthrew some deep passes but was on target with a 61-yard pass to Jalin Hyatt streaking down the left sideline on the game’s first possession. The reception set up a TD within the game’s first minute.

“The weather was going to be a factor,” Heupel said. “It was going to get worse throughout the course of the ballgame. We chose to take the football and try to get an early start.”

While Milton didn’t blame the rain for any of his overthrows, he did note a difference in the early throw to Hyatt.

“The rain wasn’t really pouring down hard,” Milton said. “At first, it was a little drizzly. I had a great grip on the ball and let it go.”

-Milton said the running backs’ long TD runs “felt like road to glory to me.” Small went 52 yards for his score. Wright struck from 50 and 83 yards and Sampson went 80 yards. All four touchdown runs came in the second half.

Backups Dayne Davis and Ollie Lane were manning the left side of UT’s line for the TDs and were part of the blocking action that opened the holes.

-The defense dominated the line of scrimmage, as evidenced by 13 tackles for lost yardage, four quarterback hurries and three sacks.

In comparing the South Carolina performance to Saturday, Heupel said: “We didn’t play assignment, alignment and technique; tonight we did. We were physical. You’ve got to defeat blocks. We did that.”

Defensive back Wesley Walker, who shared the team lead in tackles (8), said: “We knew we had to come like that because of what we did last week. This is the standard of what we want to do.”

-Dee Williams’ 73-yard punt return TD in the second quarter was the first score of that nature for Tennessee in three years. It buttressed an early two-touchdown lead that didn’t feel secure at the time.

“Dee has been really close throughout the course of the year,’ Heupel said. “A cut here or there, maybe, or the other 10 guys competing and straining.”

Williams later caused a fumble when Vanderbilt ran out of punt formation, which led to a Commodores turnover.        


Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

College Basketball On TV
  • 2/28/2023

Wednesday Feb. 8 Tennessee at Vanderbilt 7 p.m. SEC Network Citadel at UTC 7 p.m. ESPN+ Thursday Feb. 9 UTC Women at Mercer 7 p.m. Saturday Feb. 11 Missouri at Tennessee 6 p.m. ... more

Mocs Volleyball Signs Louisiana Tech Hitter
  • 2/6/2023

The Chattanooga Mocs volleyball team and head coach Julie Torbett have added Louisiana Tech outside hitting transfer Chard'e Vanzandt to the upcoming 2023 roster, the program announced on Monday. ... more

UTC Golfers Finish Seventh At Hayt Collegiate
UTC Golfers Finish Seventh At Hayt Collegiate
  • 2/6/2023

The Chattanooga Mocs moved three spots up the Hayt Collegiate leaderboard into a seventh-place finish. Today’s 289 (+1) tied for the fifth-lowest round of the day. The 3-day total of 878 ... more