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Tennessee football: Josh Heupel just gave Hendon Hooker best praise possible

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Throughout his coaching career, Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel has worked with quite a few elite quarterbacks. Heck, he was an elite quarterback himself with the Oklahoma Sooners in 1999 and 2000.

As a result, when he uses superlatives to describe quarterback play, it carries some weight. Heupel effectively did just that for Hendon Hooker when discussing his play on Monday.

“He’s playing at as high a level as I’ve ever had anybody (play), and I’ve had Heisman guys,” Heupel said in his Monday press conference. “He’s in complete command of what we’re doing.”

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Some of those “Heisman guys” include Sam Bradford, who won it in 2008 when Heupel was OU’s quarterbacks coach. He was the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL two years later.

Jason White also won the Heisman in 2003. Heupel was a graduate assistant under Bob Stoops in 2004 when he was still the team’s starter and they went back to the national championship game.

Hooker and Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud appear to be the likely leaders in the Heisman race, but it could go in another direction too. Heupel made a Heisman case for Hooker Monday.

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“You look at the efficiency of how he is playing, the ability to take care of the football, the dynamic plays that he’s made with his arm and his feet, we don’t look like we do offensively without him, and he’s certainly deserving of being in that conversation,” he said. “Got to go play the right way here the last couple of weeks and hope he has that opportunity. Believe he should.”

Heisman winners, by the way, aren’t Heupel’s only success stories when coaching quarterbacks either. Numerous NFL quarterbacks were developed under Heupel.

That list includes Bradford, Landry Jones and Drew Lock. Dillon Gabriel, ironically a current starter at OU, is another Heupel protege, as he was Heupel’s quarterback for two years with the UCF Knights.

For his part, Hooker is now completing 71.1 percent of his passes, has 2,888 yards passing and is averaging 10.1 yards an attempt. He also has 405 rushing yards and five more touchdowns.

Losing to the Georgia Bulldogs with no touchdowns and an interception hurt him, but he responded with over 400 yards and four total touchdowns against the Missouri Tigers. He’s on track to shatter Peyton Manning’s single-season total offense and total yardage record.

Taking that into account, he is still in the race, but it will require pouring it on the South Carolina Gamecocks and Vanderbilt Commodores these final two weeks. Crowd noise was a problem at UGA. Hooker and Tennessee football have to handle it better in a night game at South Carolina.

“We’ll continue to do some of the things that we’ve done here at home,” Heupel said of the crowd noise. “In the moment, we’ve got to be able to reset and play. Dead balls in particular, you’ve got to be able to handle it. We’ve done that in different road environments. This will be a great one.”

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