Joe Milton III had been playing well the past couple weeks, but Josh Heupel didn’t seem to have a lot of faith in him. With a 20-17 lead at the Kentucky Wildcats, Tennessee Football had the ball, two timeouts and over 80 seconds to go. Heupel decided at that moment to play for halftime.
The decision was based on the fact that UT would get the ball to start the second half. However, Heupel’s track record always showed a willingness to score in those moments, and if he had Hendon Hooker back there, this wouldn’t have even been a question. Twice, at his own 25, he called run plays.
On third down, though, he knew he’d have to try to convert, or Kentucky would have a chance to score late. Heupel dialed up a pass play. Milton rolled out and found Ramel Keyton for the best throw and catch of the season. It was just a seven-yard grab, but it was to a well-covered receiver.
That reset everything. Heupel decided to trust Milton in that moment, and two plays later, Milton rolled out and threw a perfect strike to Squirrel White for a 25-yard gain. The play set up a field goal so Tennessee Football could go into halftime up 23-17.
Although that drive only ended in a field goal and left the Vols still with just a one-score lead, it changed everything. Kentucky was forced to play the whole field in the second half, and that helped open up Dylan Sampson. The drive also increased the confidence Milton needed.
After everything he had been through at the beginning of the season, Milton needed that drive to prove he could run this offense. From a score perspective, it also assured the Vols would hold onto the lead in the second half given the way everything played out.
Simply put, that drive changed everything for Tennessee Football. Now at 6-2 and 3-2 in the SEC, the Vols can reset their expectations once again for their November stretch, as they have two huge games against the Missouri Tigers and Georgia Bulldogs that month. They’re hitting their stride just in time.