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Josh Heupel leads Tennessee football to the Promised Land

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Moses wandered through the wilderness for 40 years.

Tennessee wandered for 16 years before it found the Promised Land against Alabama.

You can thank Josh Heupel for the Big Orange finding paydirt.

In arguably the greatest game and greatest quarterback battle ever contested at Neyland Stadium, a field goal that knuckled over the uprights from 40 yards helped Tennessee tame Alabama 52-49 Saturday night in an Instant Classic.

Heupel has done in a year and a half what some Vol coaches never did – beat Alabama. And propel the Vols to what surely will be a top five ranking.

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The victory set off the wildest celebration seen at Neyland since Tennessee upset Florida in 1998. Goal posts came down. Fans stormed the field. And you couldn’t see the Jumbotrons from field level for the cigar smoke that filled the stadium from one end zone to the other.

None of this would have happened without Heupel magic.

The maestro behind the Vols’ resurgence has instilled a confidence in the program not seen since the mid-2000s.

And he has instilled a confidence in the players that not only had them believing they could compete with Alabama, but believing they could take down college football’s preeminent program over the past 15 years.

And remember, this was a UT program that was 3-7 two years ago, lost 45 players for a variety of reasons in a 12-month period, and hadn’t been relevant since winning the SEC East Division in 2007.

Heupel has turned journeyman quarterback Hendon Hooker into a Heisman Trophy candidate.

He has turned Jalin Hyatt into a Jerry Rice.

And he turned Tennessee football into a College Football Playoff contender – at least for now.

Hooker was brilliant once again, completing 21 of 30 passes for 385 yards and five touchdowns against the No. 1 defense in the SEC.

Hyatt was brilliant once again, with six catches for 207 yards and a school record five touchdowns, torching a secondary resplendent with five- and four-star recruits.

And consider this: Tennessee did all this without its top receiver, Cedric Tillman, who is still nursing a high ankle sprain. Without Tillman, UT has gained over 550 yards against Florida and Alabama and over 500 yards against LSU.

Tennessee was impressive in surging to a 21-7 lead but Alabama came roaring back and cut the gap to 28-20 at half time

Alabama tied the game at 28 early in the third quarter and finally took a 35-34 lead late in the third period.

When Alabama returned a fumble for a touchdown with 7:49 left in the game, it appeared the Tide had turned in Alabama’s favor at 49-42.

But the Vols didn’t wilt. Hooker marched Tennessee 75 yards in 11 plays, hitting Hyatt with a 13-yard scoring pass to tie the game.

And when Reichard missed a 50-yard field goal try with 15 seconds left, Tennessee took advantage.

Hooker connected on passes of 18 and 27 yards to set up McGrath’s game winning kick.

It appeared at first the field goal try had been tipped at the line of scrimmage. Somehow, it barley cleared the cross bar, setting off a seismic celebration.

McGrath later said he didn’t hit the ball well, but he felt he had enough on it.

He did – barely.

Tennessee is now 6-0 for the first time since 1998.

It will be ranked in the top four during the season for the first time since 2002.

And it is in position to challenge Georgia for East Division supremacy.

Heupel’s Tennessee turnaround is little short of a miracle.

A miracle Moses could appreciate.

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