Hyatt’s 2 TDs lead No. 3 Tennessee over No. 19 Kentucky 44-6

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Jalin Hyatt caught five passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns to lead No. 3 Tennessee to a 44-6 victory over No. 19 Kentucky on Saturday night.

Hyatt broke the school record for touchdown receptions in a season with 14 and set up the Volunteers (8-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) for their showdown with No. 1 Georgia next Saturday. Tennessee is off to its best start since winning the national championship in 1998.

“The first day I took this job, this is what you envision,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “You’re in the nuts and bolts and continue to grow. These guys wanted to stay (during the coaching transition).

The Wildcats (5-3, 2-3) struggled in the latest edition of the border rivalry. Will Levis, projected as one of the top quarterbacks in the upcoming NFL draft, was intercepted three times – including two by Doneiko Slaughter, who moved from safety to cornerback to fill a void.

“(Slaughter) trained at corner,” Heupel said. “He did a great job early on. We weren’t healthy at that position.”

“You have to have the mentality you want to be great,” Slaughter said. “I like to be more in the box (at safety), but it’ll grow on me.”

Kentucky was 1 for 6 on third down in the first half and 2 of 13 for the game. Levis was 16 for 27 for 98 yards.

“(Tennessee) beat us in virtually every area,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “When the game started getting away from us, (Levis is) forcing things. That’s the competitor in him.”

“(Tennessee’s defense was) playing some zones that ended up plugging up a lot of things,” Levis said. “Credit (Tennessee), but most of it was us shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker completed 19 of 25 passes for 245 yards and three scores. Hooker also ran for a TD.

“We’re here to accomplish the goal we set in January,” Hooker said. “We’ll take every opponent seriously. I have to lock into my assignment.”

The Vols led 27-6 at halftime. Hyatt had three receptions for 91 yards, two of them were for touchdowns.

FACTS & STATS

Tennessee S Jaylen McCollough (aggravated assault arrest) and WR Cedric Tillman (high ankle sprain) both returned to action after missing multiple games. McCollough’s attorney has filed a motion arguing self-defense. … Hooker’s 55-yard scoring pass to Hyatt early in the game was his 20th straight game with a TD pass, breaking his own school record. … Each team missed a PAT in the first half – Kentucky’s Matt Ruffolo had his kick blocked and, after a 10-yard penalty, Tennessee’s Chase McGrath was wide right. … Vols S Doneiko Slaughter got his first career interception on a tipped ball in the red zone. Levis made a TD-saving tackle 48 yards later. He got his second pick in the third quarter. … Kentucky, ranked 115th in sacks yielded in the NCAA, gave up four, including two in the first drive of the second half. … Wildcats LB DeAndre Square (ankle) was injured early, came back, but missed the entire second half. … Scoring more than 30 points in 11 straight games is a Tennessee school record.

THE TAKEAWAY

Kentucky: The Wildcats defense couldn’t slow down the Tennessee offense. Other than Georgia, there are three very winnable games left on the Kentucky schedule.

Tennessee: After beating Alabama a couple weeks ago, the Vols had little left to prove. Even so, they showed they are ready for the showdown with Georgia.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: The Wildcats are on the road at Missouri next Saturday, then finish the season at home against Vanderbilt, Georgia and Louisville.

Tennessee: The Vols have a big-time opportunity next Saturday when they travel to Athens for a shot at top-ranked Georgia, the defending national champion.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

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SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

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DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.