KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — On a couple of occasions this season, Tennessee outside linebacker Darrell Taylor has resembled one of the most dominant pass rushers in the nation.
The rest of the year, he hasn’t been much of a factor.
The best version of Taylor showed up last week when he sacked Terry Wilson four times in a 24-7 upset of No. 20 Kentucky, which was ranked 12th at the time. Tennessee now wants to see if Taylor can continue pressuring opposing quarterbacks the rest of the season.
“You just look up and there he goes again,” Tennessee defensive end Kyle Phillips said. “It made our job a lot easier, let me tell you that. It made (it) a lot easier. We’re going to definitely need some more of that from Darrell Taylor moving forward. It was an amazing performance.”
Taylor’s four sacks matched College Football and Pro Football Hall of Famer Reggie White for the second-highest single-game total in school history. The single-game record is held by Corey Miller, who produced 4 ½ sacks in a 2013 victory over Kentucky.
“That’s crazy,” Taylor said of being mentioned alongside White. “I never thought it would happen. It feels really good, man, and I got to enjoy it with my teammates and family.”
This marks a breakthrough season for Taylor, thanks almost entirely to his performances on a couple of weekends.
Taylor has a team-high seven sacks, but they all came in two games. He had three sacks in a 38-12 loss to No. 5 Georgia on Sept. 29 before his four-sack effort last week. All three of his forced fumbles this season also came in those two games. He had a fumble recovery and five tackles but no sacks in a 30-24 victory over Auburn last month.
Nobody else on Tennessee’s roster has recorded more than three sacks this season. Taylor, a junior from Waverly, Virginia, entered this season with three career sacks.
“Darrell has ability,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “We’ve been harping on him all year about consistency. He’s learning a new scheme and he’s got a lot thrown at him just like the other guys, and he’s going to continue to improve in the duration of his career.”
Taylor believes he knows what it takes to start producing more consistently.
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“Just focus on the little things, studying film, practicing the way I’m supposed to practice - little things like that,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s performances against Georgia and Kentucky showcased his considerable potential. Taylor’s coaches want to see him play that way more often.
That may explain why Pruitt wasn’t overly generous in his praise of Taylor’s four-sack effort.
“Well, twice they didn’t block him,” Pruitt said. “When they don’t block you, you need to sack the quarterback. The other two times, we had them in long-yardage situations and I think that helped. It helped with them being behind the sticks. I think some of it had to do with not having explosive plays and having a little more ability to stop the run, to put them in some long-yardage situations. It’s much easier to rush the quarterback when they’re one-dimensional.”
Indeed, at least on Taylor’s final sack of the day, he never got touched on his way to the quarterback.
“My eyes got big,” Taylor said of that play. “My eyes got really big, man.”
Taylor’s pass-rushing ability could prove critical the next two weeks as Tennessee tries to secure a bowl bid.
The Vols (5-5, 2-4 SEC) must win one of their two remaining games to become bowl eligible. They host Missouri (6-4, 2-4) on Saturday before visiting Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5) on Nov. 24.
Missouri has attempted the second-most passes (356) in the SEC this year, yet it has allowed the second-fewest sacks (12) in the conference.
“I’m just going to get back in the lab, the football film room and get back on the field, and we’re going to see what happens,” Taylor said.
NOTES: Pruitt is optimistic that safety Trevon Flowers will be able to play against Missouri. Flowers has missed Tennessee’s last five games due to a broken collarbone. ... Cornerback Bryce Thompson’s status for the Missouri game is uncertain. Pruitt said Thompson got his “bell rung” against Kentucky.