Vols’ Heupel addresses pouring it on against Mizzou

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee freshman running back Dylan Sampson scores from 2 yards out with 36 seconds remaining in Saturday’s 66-24 mauling of Missouri.

In a Tennessee football season filled with touchdown highlights, Dylan Sampson's 2-yard scoring plunge in Saturday's 66-24 drubbing of Missouri would rank among the more mundane.

As for a conversation piece? Now that's a different matter.

Sampson's score transpired with only 36 seconds remaining, giving the Volunteers an even bigger victory against the Tigers than last year's 62-24 massacre in Columbia. Was it an unnecessary act of running up the score, or did Tennessee need to accumulate style points after its 27-13 defeat at Georgia and being ranked fifth in last week's College Football Playoff standings?

"For us, at the end of the day, our twos were in the football game when the ball went down to the 1-yard line or whatever it was," Vols second-year coach Josh Heupel said in his Monday news conference. "It absolutely went through my mind (to take a knee), but I don't know what the right thing to do is in that moment."

The Vols travel to South Carolina this week with a 9-1 record and looking to nail down their first 10-win regular season since 2003.

Tennessee began its last possession against Mizzou at its 20-yard line with 3:06 remaining and used a 20-yard run by Sampson and a 58-yard pass from backup quarterback Joe Milton III to reserve receiver Squirrel White to quickly reach the 1-yard line of the Tigers. One minute and 28 seconds remained when a first-and-goal run by the freshman Sampson lost a yard, but he scored on the ensuing snap.

Heupel and Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz did not display any animosity while shaking hands at midfield, and when asked about the final touchdown afterward, Drinkwitz said, "He coaches his team. I coach our team. I've got no issues with their team and what they do."

Drinkwitz had poked fun of Tennessee's NCAA violations under former coach Jeremy Pruitt while making an appearance on "The Jim Rome Show" in late July.

"I thought you were going to introduce my record," Drinkwitz told Rome, "but with the latest allegations against Tennessee, hold up on what my record is because I expect them to vacate some wins, and that's going to help my record a little bit."

Drinkwitz also playfully questioned the commitment of his wife in light of Pruitt's wife being named in the NCAA's findings.

Heupel was Mizzou's offensive coordinator during the 2016-17 seasons before becoming a head coach for the first time at UCF. His two games with the Vols against the Tigers have yielded a staggering 1,407 yards and a 128-48 victory margin.

"At the end of the day, our guys continue to play football," Heupel said.


Hyatt headed home

Tennessee junior Jalin Hyatt leads the nation with 15 touchdown catches, having already set the single-season school mark in that category, and his 111.6 yards a game leads all Power Five receivers.

The 6-foot, 180-pounder is from Irmo, South Carolina, which is a dozen or so miles from Saturday night's venue, Williams-Brice Stadium.

"Anytime you can go home to play, it's a great feeling," Vols sixth-year senior quarterback Hendon Hooker said Monday. "His competitive fire is amazing, and I just want to match it whenever we're out there together. He's playing very physical right now and very smart and savvy.

"It's a cool thing to go home to family and friends and put on a show, and I'm excited to see how he does his thing."


Four and counting

It's now every position up front but left tackle.

Vols junior center Cooper Mays was named Monday as the Southeastern Conference's offensive lineman of the week. The 6-3, 296-pounder out of Knox Catholic made his 20th career start against Mizzou and did not allow a sack or a quarterback pressure against the nation's No. 13 defense that was torched for 724 yards.

"He's smart, tough and competitive," Heupel said, "and he takes great ownership inside of the room. It all starts with him for us. This was really the first true offseason he's had, and he's stronger and bigger than he was. He is playing at a super high level."

Said Hooker: "He's a great communicator for me and the backfield, and then there is the security up front. Just being a force up front is huge for us."

Right guard Javontez Spraggins, left guard Jerome Carvin and right tackle Darnell Wright have also claimed the weekly honor this season.

Hooker was named SEC offensive player of the week for the third time this season and the fourth-time in his two-year career with the Vols. He completed 25 of 35 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns Saturday while also rushing for 50 yards, including a 14-yard score.


That third phase

Tennessee was up 38-7 early in the third quarter of last year's 45-20 thumping of South Carolina when the Gamecocks faked a fourth-and-9 punt for a 44-yard touchdown.

The Gamecocks have been stout on special teams in Shane Beamer's two seasons, and Heupel is putting the Vols on notice.

"They got us last year in punt safe, and we didn't do a good job of playing the technique that we were supposed to on the outside," Heupel said. "When our special teams units go out on the field, they've got to be aware that those guys are going to be aggressive after the punt and that they're really good in the return game.

"You've got to do a great job of covering, too, because they're great in the return game. You don't get any redo opportunities on special teams."


Odds and ends

Tennessee leads the SEC with a plus-9 turnover margin. ... Heupel when asked about fewer teams faking injuries this season: "If you take out the Ole Miss game from last year, it's probably pretty consistent." ... Heupel stressed again his belief that fifth-year senior receiver Cedric Tillman will play Saturday. ... Heupel on Tennessee handling its first road atmosphere since the slew of pre-snap penalties at Georgia: "In the moment, we've got to be able to reset and play. We've done that in different road environments, but this will be a great one." ... Next Saturday's regular-season finale at Vanderbilt will have a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on the SEC Network.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.