Inside Hendon Hooker’s Record-Setting Night Against Kentucky

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    Hendon Hooker

    Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker warming up before taking on No. 18 Kentucky. Photo by Tennessee Athletics.

    On Saturday morning, hours before Tennessee would take the field against the eighteenth ranked Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, ESPN aired a feature on Vols’ quarterback Hendon Hooker.

    Many Tennessee players, including Hooker, spent some time with their families during Tennessee’s open week last weekend. On the Saturday morning before Halloween, Hooker and his father, former North Carolina A&T quarterback Alan Hooker, we’re out in a Greensboro, NC park going through quarterback drills at 7 in the morning. And in this case, certainly, hard work pays off.

    One week later, Hooker didn’t just have the best game of his Tennessee season. No, he may very well have had the best football game of his entire career.

    In total, while leading Tennessee to a 45-42 win, Hooker was 15-of-20 for 316 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Against Kentucky, Hooker set a new career-high in passing yards (previously 311) and passing touchdowns (previously 3). Additionally, 75 percent completion is the highest percentage of his Tennessee career, with a minimum of 20 pass attempts.

    As Hooker’s numbers continue to climb, the Vols’ wide receivers numbers do as well, inevitably. Tennessee wide receivers Velus Jones Jr and JaVonta Payton each had their second-most yards in a game this season, respectively. Jones Jr ended the game with 100 yards and a touchdown on five receptions. Meanwhile, Payton had 78 yards and a touchdown on his two receptions on Saturday night.

    Throughout the season, it really has been noticeable to see the bond that has been forming between Hooker and his receivers. Not only that, but the bond that each of them shares with coach Josh Heupel is invaluable as well. For example, in every game this season except for one, Hooker has thrown for more yards than the previous week.

    1. Bowling Green – 5 yards
    2. Pittsburgh – 188
    3. Tennessee Tech – 199
    4. Florida – 221
    5. Missouri – 225
    6. South Carolina – 225
    7. Ole Miss – 233
    8. Alabama – 282
    9. Kentucky – 316

    Hooker has been efficient and creative with the ball on several occasions this year. But one of the things that may not be noticed as much is how secure Hooker has been with the football. On the year, Hooker only has two interceptions, compared to his 21 touchdown passes.

    “17 FBS QBs have thrown 20 or more TDs this season,” Tennessee Communications Director Bill Martin said on Twitter. “Of those 17, Hendon Hooker has thrown the fewest INTs. 21:2 TD to INT (8:1 vs ranked teams at time of meeting) in first year of Josh Heupel’s system.”

    The consistent improvement to Tennessee’s team also is a testament to the player’s belief and trust in Heupel and the coaching staff.

    “Man, I love coach’s mentality,” Jones Jr said after Tennessee took down Kentucky in Lexington. “You know, he’s going to go for forever, he’s going to fight. You know that’s how you can expect that coach is going to fight. We knew that we were going to get points up on the board, you know everybody just had to follow through with the details and stuff like that. Everybody had to be on point. And so, you know, that’s what happened. We came up with a field goal and that was a huge part of that game. I love coach’s aggressiveness.”

    Tennessee’s final three opponents in the regular season, in order, are No. 1 Georgia, South Alabama on homecoming, and then Vanderbilt after Thanksgiving. The Bulldogs will be a challenge unlike anything else Tennessee has seen this season, especially from a defensive perspective. However, the Vols then close with two very winnable games.

    Through the leadership and growth of Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker, Tennessee will have the chance at going 7-5 in Josh Heupel’s inaugural season.

    Ric Butler is a Knoxville based sports media personality who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 2017. Most recently, he served as the lead writer for the website of a local radio station. Ric also helped create and host a daily radio show called “The Blitz." Ric’s passion for sports, smooth vocal, and infectious personality have made him popular with both his peers and Vol Nation. Originally from Dallas, Ric didn’t grow up riding horses to school. But he did dream of the big city lights. When not chasing down the latest Tennessee story, Ric can be found watching the WWE, often attempting their moves in an embarrassing fashion.