Vols look to finish strong without star quarterback

Hendon Hooker suffered a torn ACL against South Carolina and will be out for the rest of the season.
Hendon Hooker
Hendon Hooker(Tennessee Athletic Communications)
Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 9:39 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - One final game is left in the regular season. No. 9 Tennessee regrouped Monday and hoped to finish the 2022 regular season strong on the road Saturday night at Vanderbilt.

Tennessee is on the hunt for its 10th victory of the season, which would be the first 10-win regular season since 2003 and the first 10-win season overall since 2007.

It’s also holding on to a New Year’s Six bid. Unfortunately, they’ll have to continue that journey without their star quarterback Hendon Hooker.

Hooker suffered a torn ACL against South Carolina. After the game, Jerome Carvin said it was one of the worst things he’s seen on the field.

Hooker came to Tennessee and assumed the backup role two years ago, but he pressed on and made sure he’d be ready for his moment when his number was called.

Over the summer, he took another jump in his game, helping to take this team to new heights and places it hasn’t been in decades.

Coach Josh Heupel spoke with the media Monday and said he hates how his career ended at Tennessee, especially because of how much he’s poured himself into the program and the growth he’s made over the last two seasons.

”He represents everything good about college football,” said Heupel. “A young man that’s learned how to be a man, that does it the right way, that cares about his teammates. That’s grown outside of the game, that’s grown inside of the game. That’s put him to have a great future in the game, too. Just hate that we don’t get the chance to go compete with him again and that he doesn’t have that opportunity.”

This weekend’s test grows in stature with every week as Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-5 SEC) is riding a two-game win streak after defeating Kentucky on the road two weeks ago, 24-21, then downing Florida, 31-24, last Saturday at home.

It will take focus and a fresh attitude following Saturday’s defeat for the Vols to finish the year the right way.

Defensive lineman Omari Thomas knows they’ll have to be locked in because this isn’t the cupcake match-up many predicted it would’ve been at the start of the season.

“We just have to go in ready to play hard. We can’t go in expecting a win. So like you said, at the beginning of the year, you might’ve thought a certain way about a team. But we just can’t go in thinking like that. We need to go in with our mindset right, ready to play hard,” said Thomas.

This mindset is coming off a shocking 63-38 loss to unranked South Carolina in Columbia.

The team remains firm that practice went great and they had the right attitude, but something changed when they took the field against the Gamecocks.

Linebacker Aaron Beasley said, “I assume we just felt like it was going to be given to us. We didn’t feel like we would have to go out there and work for it. We just thought they were going to lay down. Props to them, they came out and played a great game. They’re physical and great team, and they showed that Saturday.”

With a New Year’s Six on the line, Beasley said, “I feel like we’re going to get back to work, starting tomorrow with our Tuesday practice. I feel like we just go lean on each other. We have to be there for each other and go back to work. We have to hone in on the details and just go back to work.”

With much at stake and much still left to achieve, the Volunteers return to Haslam Field Tuesday morning as preparation for Vanderbilt continues.

Kickoff on Saturday, Nov. 26, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET, 6:30 p.m. CT on SEC Network.