Ever marvel at how Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt leads the nation in touchdown receptions and continues to run so free in opposing secondaries?
Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker certainly does.
"Sometimes it's like, 'Wow. There is no way they left him wide open like that,'" Hooker said this week with a smile.
The Hooker-to-Hyatt connection accounted for five touchdowns in last month's 52-49 topping of Alabama and will be needed again this Saturday when the Vols, who are No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, travel to No. 3 Georgia. Hyatt, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior from Irmo, South Carolina, added two more touchdown catches in last Saturday night's 44-6 trampling of Kentucky in Neyland Stadium to increase his season total to 14.
His first score against the Wildcats came from 55 yards out just five plays into the game, and he was all alone.
"We do everything off matchups and just seeing their tendencies," Hyatt said. "We game plan during the week and see how their safeties play. Are they flat-footed? Do they get out of their breaks? What coverage are they mainly in?
"Kentucky had some busts that messed them up, and I'm glad that we took advantage of it."
Hyatt has racked up 45 receptions for 907 yards (20.2 yards per catch) through Tennessee's 8-0 start. He also leads the country with 12 receptions of 30-plus yards, nine catches of 40-plus yards, five receptions of 50-plus yards and three catches of 60-plus yards.
His nine receptions of 40-plus yards surpass 117 of the 131 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
"It's a combination of speed, space, scheme and a talented arm," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of Tennessee's unrelenting aerial assault. "You can have the best receivers in the world getting open all the time, but if you don't have somebody getting it to them — they've got people who can protect and somebody who can get it to them.
"That's the challenge for us this week."
Tennessee is indeed much more than Hooker-to-Hyatt, as Bru McCoy has amassed 30 catches for 451 yards and two touchdowns, Ramel Keyton 20 receptions for 357 yards and three scores, and Cedric Tillman 21 for 268 and the deciding touchdown in overtime at Pittsburgh. Tillman tallied 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns last year but was out four games with a high-ankle sprain before returning last weekend.
A rushing attack averaging 199.6 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry that is spearheaded by Jabari Small, Jaylen Wright and Hooker is making life easier for the pass-game components as well.
"They do a great job of getting open," Hooker said. "It's not all about defenses having busts. It's them being playmakers and understanding where everybody is on the field or understanding that this is a zone and, 'Let me sit in this zone,' or, 'Hey, this is man, and I can run by him.'
"Then, with picking matchups, if I see there is a matchup on Jalin Hyatt with a stand-up rush or an outside linebacker, that's a dream come true."
Tennessee second-year coach Josh Heupel was asked this week about the secret sauce that has followed him from the University of Central Florida to Knoxville. Heupel made sure to bring up Missouri's effectiveness with quarterback Drew Lock during his two seasons as Tigers offensive coordinator in 2016-17 before answering.
"Scheme is putting your players in a position to be successful," Heupel said. "We always ask the question, 'What can our players do individually, and what can they do at a really high level?' Your players have to be able to go out and perform and execute, and that's understanding your job and offseason training and understanding the defenses.
"Then you put your quarterback in the position to be accurate with the football."
What has become evident about Tennessee's receivers running free is that the celebrations that fans witness on Saturdays occur during the week as well.
"With Hook, we stay in the film room on Mondays and just look and see what we can do on them," Hyatt said. "When we see a matchup we know we can exploit, we're definitely happy in the film room for sure."
Georgia legends lost
Having recently lost former tailback Charley Trippi and former coach Vince Dooley at the respective ages of 100 and 90, Georgia will recognize the two late legends Saturday.
Bulldogs players will wear a helmet decal honoring Trippi, the 1946 Maxwell Award winner and the No. 1 pick of the 1947 NFL draft, and they will wear a patch on their uniforms in tribute to Dooley, who assembled a 201-77-10 record from 1964 to 1988 that included the 1980 national championship.
Saturday's game will also include a moment of silence, a special video and remembrance markings on the field.
Success in second
Remember last season when Tennessee was the best first-quarter team in college football but struggled in the second?
The Vols were outscored 143-109 in the second quarter in 2021 but have outscored foes this year 141-41 by comparison. Their 12.5-point differential in that quarter leads the nation.
The final words
Heupel held his final news conference of this monumental week on Thursday.
"This week has been really good," he said. "The guys have been focused and urgent in the way they've entered the building and in their meetings and out on the practice field, too. I like what we've done up to now."
When asked a question by "DawgNation" reporter Mike Griffith, Heupel smiled and said, "That's a bright shade of red you've got on today."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com.