Hooker’s 4 TDs help Tennessee top No. 18 Kentucky 45-42

© Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Hendon Hooker threw a career-high four touchdown passes, including a 6-yard insurance score to Cedric Tillman early in the fourth quarter, and Tennessee held off No. 18 Kentucky 45-42 on Saturday night to halt a two-game losing streak.

The Volunteers (5-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) emerged from a bye to strike quickly in a back-and-forth game between border rivals that totaled 1,073 yards combined. They needed just three plays and 37 seconds to score their first two TDs, drove 35 yards in 16 seconds for a go-ahead field goal before halftime, and ticked off only 37 seconds on the way to another go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

Hooker’s final TD to Tillman with 11:40 remaining proved to be the biggest as Kentucky (6-3, 4-3) got within a field goal on Will Levis‘ 24-yard touchdown toss to Izayah Cummings. The Wildcats got one last chance after Chase McGrath‘s missed field goal but couldn’t take advantage, turning the ball over on downs with 29 seconds left.

It was Tennessee’s first win over a ranked opponent since 2018, also against Kentucky.

Alontae Taylor came up with Tennessee’s biggest defensive play with 6:23 left in the third, reading Levis perfectly to jump a route for a 56-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Volunteers their first 10-point lead. Kentucky pulled to 38-35, but Hooker answered with a 6-yard scoring pass to Tillman that provided breathing room.

Hooker completed 15 of 20 passes for a career-best 316 yards with TDs to JaVonta Payton, Velus Jones Jr., tight end Jacob Warren and Tillman. Jabari Small rushed for a 37-yard TD as Tennessee bounced back from losses to then-No. 13 Mississippi and then-No. 4 Alabama, avoiding consecutive losses to Kentucky for the first time since 1976-77.

Levis threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns for Kentucky, which stayed competitive with several long, time-consuming drives. He also ran for two scores. But the Wildcats’ defense couldn’t slow Hooker or the Volunteers’ high-speed offense, which scored on three consecutive second-half possessions to stay ahead.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Kentucky’s home loss will probably cost the Wildcats at least a few spots in the poll – and possibly their Top 25 ranking altogether.

THE TAKEAWAY

Tennessee moved the ball virtually at will against a Kentucky defense that just couldn’t keep up. Strong as Hooker was with his arm, he also contributed a couple of key runs that helped the Volunteers finish with 145 yards on the ground.

Kentucky mounted long drives that had the Vols on their heels and appeared to seize momentum with a 21-14 lead. The defense just couldn’t slow down Tennessee.

UP NEXT

Tennessee hosts top-ranked Georgia on Nov. 13.

Kentucky visits last-place Vanderbilt in its SEC finale on Nov. 13.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

florida gators
Donald Page/Getty Images
0 Comments

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.