And just like that we are at the halfway point in the college football regular season!
Week 7 had some great games on the slate, and I really wanted to get a deep look at the Michigan vs. Penn State game, but what unfolded in Knoxville needed to be written about, even if I’ve already done a deep dive on both teams already this season. This was probably the game of the season so far, with drama and talking points galore, and an upset win by the Vols 52-49 at the death.
So many players here helped their draft stock but there were also a couple who had uncharacteristic performances too, and I’ll try and cover as many as possible below, starting with the triumphant Tennessee Volunteers…
On my last deep dive with the Vols I suggested that Quarterback Hendon Hooker had put himself in the conversation to be QB3 next April. This performance, against a defense littered with future high NFL draft picks, will only push his case further, and there are now people suggesting that he is even in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
Top Quarterbacks need a signature win to stamp their CVs and this was Hooker’s. He threw for 385 yards, five TDs and one Interception, which are ridiculous numbers against this Bama defense, but more important than the stat sheet was how he led his team to the upset win.
Hooker was never fazed as the score went back and forth between the two teams, and he was never afraid to take the downfield shots when he could, or use his legs if he needed to, to keep his team moving down the field. Hooker took chances, and got away with an Interception that was called back for a questionable pass interference call, but you don’t beat teams like Alabama without taking chances, and he made his offense a threat to score every time they had the ball.
As I’m sure you can tell I’m a big fan, and right now I can’t see how he isn’t viewed as QB3, but there will be people using his age (he’ll be a 25 year old rookie) as a big negative.
I would say what he has is a mature head on his shoulders, and could lead an NFL offense with very little prep time needed, which is surely a plus point.
With star wide receiver Cedric Tillman still out, the Vols have relied on others to step up to pick up his slack. Jalin Hyatt stepped up in the biggest possible way with a career best 207 yards on just six catches, with five of them going for touchdowns!
Hyatt is a burner who turned on the jets for two of his scores, outrunning the Bama secondary each time showcasing his elite speed. He has had a couple of really nice games this year, especially with Tillman out, and he is doing himself no harm with putting tape out like this for scouts to drool over.
There’s a bit of Hollywood Brown about Hyatt, and the NFL does love a speedster, so he has value and will be moving up boards with games like this in his pocket.
For the offense to move down the field as easily as they did, the offensive line had to play well, and they did, particularly the two tackles.
Left tackle Gerald Mincey was having a great game but picked up an injury and didn’t play the second half. Right tackle Darnell Wright did play the whole game and he put in a dominant performance, especially considering he spent a lot of time up against a potential number one overall pick in Will Anderson.
Wright was exceptional in pass protection, showing great technique and strength in his hands controlling the pass rushers nicely. He displayed good footwork too, keeping a nice solid base but with good lateral movement as well to keep the pocket clean. He gave up zero pressures, and considering the talent he was up against, that’s some great tape to show scouts.
He is someone I wasn’t overly high on coming into the year, but his performances this season have been excellent, and he is certainly getting his name back out there and on some top ten tackle lists.
Defensively for the Vols there wasn’t much to shout about, as Alabama could consistently move the ball down the field with ease, but linebacker Jeremy Banks did impress though, often around the ball and in on plays. He can line up as a traditional off ball linebacker, or out on the edge, and was effective in both roles in this game.
He doesn’t have enough size to line up as a pass rusher in the NFL, but he was effective in that role here, getting five pressures and causing plenty of disruption when blitzed. In a more traditional role he showed good read and react skills and good tackling technique but is limited somewhat when asked to cover. He has that classic late round pick, special teams ace vibe to him.
The Crimson Tide offense has looked a shadow of itself the last couple of games with star Quarterback Bryce Young out injured. He was back for this game and showed how vital he is to this team. He was excellent from the start, testing his injured shoulder early, and then with confidence took his team up and down the field routinely. He finished with a massive 455 yards passing, two touchdowns and no picks, and looked as good as he did before the injury. He is a special talent who is in a fight to be QB1 with Ohio State’s C.J Stroud, and both should end up being top five picks in the draft.
We are used to having a bevvy of top Bama wide receivers prospects, but this is definitely a down year in that department.
Running back Jahmyr Gibbs has been a valuable weapon in the passing game as well as the run game this year, and he has helped his quarterback out in that department regularly.
Tight end Cameron Latu came through in this game too, with a breakout performance and one which should get him some draft buzz back. Latu came into the year graded by most scouts as the top senior tight end prospect, but his performances up to now have been a bit underwhelming and he has been overtaken by a few others.
However, he was a different beast though in this game, showing really soft hands when used in the passing game, and good solid run blocking, especially out on the edge, on run plays. This is the kind of level of performance we were expecting all year, so let’s hope this is the start of more consistent play so he can get his name back out there again.
The Crimson Tide offensive line has always churned out high quality prospects, but this current version is a little light on top end talent. Right tackle JC Latham is the one exception and he’ll be a big name in the 2024 draft, but their best draft hope for this year’s draft is left tackle Tyler Steen. Having to replace Evan Neal (seventh overall selection last year) is no easy task, but Bama is littered with five star recruits who should’ve stepped up into that role.
They didn’t, and it’s been left to Vanderbilt transfer Steen to come in and hold that position down, which he has done to a high standard. He won’t wow with athleticism or power, but he is a good technician and is very experienced, having been a three year starter at left tackle for the Commodores before transferring over the summer. He will most likely be a day three pick as the upside is limited with him, but he would make a valuable swing tackle at the next level, and teams will still invest decent draft capital to that role.
Now we’re not used to a Bama defense giving up 567 yards, but that is what happened in this game.
All the big name 2023 Bama defensive prospects had rough nights. EDGE Will Anderson had the quietest game I’ve ever seen from him. As mentioned before, Tennessee’s Tackles really shackled him and he couldn’t affect the game in any way really. We won’t overreact to this performance and move him down boards, he is still the best player in the country, all it proved was that he is actually human.
Linebacker Henry To’o To’o, Safety/Slot Corner Brian Branch and Safety Jordan Battle, all had indifferent games too, but again this won’t affect their draft stock too much as we pretty much know what players they are already.
One player whose stock may take a hit because of this game is Safety DeMarcco Hellams. He had been getting some buzz due to his play so far this year, but this was a disaster for him, as he was twice burned for touchdowns by Jalin Hyatt. They moved him away from covering Hyatt one on one in the second half, but he still missed some tackles and took a bad angle on another Hyatt touchdown. This is tape he’ll want to lose, but the scouts will already have seen the weaknesses exposed here, and no doubt he’ll end up falling down some boards accordingly.
The only Alabama defensive player who gets a pass is true sophomore Cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry, who was only targeted twice and gave up no catches. He had Tennessee receiver Bru McCoy in his pocket all game and looked every bit the next special Crimson Tide corner.
Follow Keith on Twitter @lordlucken
Read other scouting notes and the rest of our CFB content HERE.