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Report Card: Tennessee keeps getting high marks after bagging the Wildcats 44-6

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The script varied a bit for Tennessee on Saturday. The outcome was the same.

The Vols beat Kentucky 44-6 in Neyland Stadium with their usually explosive offense. The difference against the Cats is that the Vols’ defense was dominant.

Here are the grades in another big win by the Vols:

Quarterbacks – A+ 

As good as Hendon Hooker has been this season, he is getting considerably better. He is beginning to look off defensive backs, be more decisive when he runs the ball and has mastered the option on the goal line. Hooker completed 19 of 25 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns. He’s on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy.

Various sports books now have Hooker as the favorite to win college football’s top award. That’s no small feat. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud was a heavy favorite though the entire season.

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Running Backs – A

Jaylen Wright was the go-to tailback in the first half and showed off some significant wiggle to elude tacklers and pick up more yardage. Jabari Small is his steady self, rushing for 78 on 21 carries. He also caught a pass for a touchdown. However, Wright may be starting to grab more and more carries as the season goes on. With fumble issues behind him, he may be more elusive than Small. Wright ran for 73 yards on seven carries.

Princeton Fant ran in another short-yardage touchdown. He’s tough to stop on the goal line and in short yardage and now has to be accounted for.

Dave Hooker and Caleb Calhoun talk about the Vols win over Kentucky

Receivers/Tight Ends – A

It was obvious that Tennessee was going to get Cedric Tillman involved in the game immediately. He caught two of the first three passes of the game against Kentucky. The early underneath passing set up (surprise) a 55-yard touchdown pass to Jalin Hyatt, who is having one of the most unimaginable seasons in Tennessee football history.

Hyatt caught five passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Tillman caught four passes for 22 yards in his return to action for the first time since suffering an ankle injury against Akron in September.

Offensive Line – B

Jeremiah Crawford was flagged with a holding penalty in the first quarter, but the Vols opened up some gaping holes early in the running game and got a key push on a fourth-down conversion and did the same when they were on the goal line.

The Vols could turn into an I-formation, power-running football team if they’d like to with Darnell Wright at right tackle. He’s one of the best run blockers in the SEC and right up there with the best all around. The Vols allowed two sacks.

Defensive Line – A 

Tennessee ended any chance that Kentucky may have had to mount a comeback when they registered two sacks on the first drive of the second half. Da’Jon Terry, Tyler Baron and Byron Young all got in on the action. Young added another sack in the fourth quarter.

Tennessee’s defensive line is aided greatly by its coaching and help from the Vols’ linebackers. However, the Vols deserve credit for more than holding their own against Kentucky. They dominated with key stops in short yardage situations and recorded four sacks. Tennessee allowed just 107 rushing yards.

Linebackers – A

Juwan Mitchell’s interception off of a hit by Neiko Slaughter was a key play in the second quarter as Kentucky was drawing closer to the Vols. Tennessee’s linebackers were active all night, better in second-level pass coverage than they’ve been against a quality opponent all season and keep getting better each week.

Defensive Backs – A+

The Vols went against one of the top NFL quarterback prospects in the nation and gave up 98 yards passing and racked up three interceptions. Certainly, the defensive front helps UT’s secondary, but it’s past the point in which the Vols’ defensive backs should be considered an an overwhelming weakness. Brandon Turnage reeled in an interception. Neiko Slaughter forced an interception on a hard hit in the first half and got his own in the third quarter.

Special Teams – C

The Vols blocked an extra point in the first quarter then missed one in the second quarter. Caleb Herring either partially blocked a punt or at least affected Kentucky’s punter with a clean rush in the second quarter. The Vols got a nice return by Dee Williams for 34 yards.

Coaching – A+

Going for it on fourth down quickly in the first quarter was exceptionally bold and well executed. There may come a time in which some defensive coach figures out how to better prepare a secondary to defend the Vols’ attack. That, however, doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. If you have any doubt that Kentucky was out coached, go back and look at Cats’ coach Mark Stoops animated sideline demeanor.

Overall – A

With Georgia on the horizon, everyone seemed worried about the Wildcats. They shouldn’t have been. The Vols were more talented, better coached and too mature to overlook the Cats. Based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s no way that the Vols won’t play at a high level in the matchup that everyone has been waiting to see.

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