It was confusing to see. Tennessee football wide receiver Jalin Hyatt has been on a tear. Just two weeks ago against the Alabama Crimson Tide, he only needed six catches go gain over 200 yards and score five touchdowns.
Somehow, though, the Kentucky Wildcats, led by a defensive genius in Mark Stoops and with an elite secondary, couldn’t stop Hyatt from continuing his onslaught. They even had a bye to prepare.
Hyatt had five catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the game. In both instances, he was wide open in a busted coverage. A huge benefit, though, was the return of Cedric Tillman at wideout.
“I think as a defense, you have to be aware of where he is,” tight end Jacob Warren said of Tillman. “He causes such a problem for people trying to scheme us up just because he’s been that dude for however long.”
Tillman’s return is to a very different Tennessee football team. This is a unit that has expanded its weapons in the passing game since he’s been out.
As a result, it opened the door for even more big plays in the slot. Warren gave credit to the other receivers for stepping up in his absence to make that possible.
“We’ve had Bru (McCoy) step up, we’ve had Jalin (Hyatt) step up,” he said. “So if you want to coverage that, he’ll still have his catches, and then you better be ready to have one on ones or whatever in the back end with all of our other guys that are able to go make plays and get open themselves.”
Tillman only had four catches for 22 yards. However, his return was still a factor because of the attention he drew, as Warren noted.
McCoy had six catches for 54 yards. Ramel Keyton has been a huge factor at wideout in recent weeks too. Warren acknowledged Tillman had to knock off the rust and get back into the rhythm with tempo.
“It was big, and hopefully he’ll be obviously ready to go and go give it a go, give it his all next week,” he said.
Still, there’s no denying the impact he had in the game, as Warren noted. Hooker threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Hyatt on the opening drive.
Later in the game, he had a 31-yard touchdown pass to Hyatt. In both instances, Hyatt took advantage of a busted coverage, which Warren couldn’t explain.
“There’s plays you know, are are probably going to hit, and there’s plays that, you know, the coaches are calling to try to score,” he said. “It’s cool to see it, to see it develop and to see it happen.”
It’s likely that Tillman’s presence deserves credit for some of those busted coverages. Tennessee football’s offense is that much more dynamic now with him in there.
Warren said he is usually focused on his roles in plays like that, which are usually on the other side of the field, so he can’t see them as often. It could be him focused on blocking or running a route.
“I’m running and running and, you know, I put my foot in the ground and come out of my break and I’m looking at Hendon (Hooker), and obviously Hendon’s not looking back at me, he’s looking down the field, so I’m like, alright, who’s about to throw it to, and then I see I see Jalin Hyatt just wide open,” he said. “I’m like, Oh my gosh. Like, how did he get so open? How are you not covering him? He’s literally the best player on the field.”