A broken coverage from Kentucky gave Jalin Hyatt all he needed to find himself wide open heading into the endzone.
It was deja vu for the junior receiver, who broke Tennessee's program record for single-season touchdowns Saturday night.
Hyatt's first touchdown came just a minute and a half into the game on a 55-yard touchdown pass from Hendon Hooker. It was his 13th touchdown of the season, which tied the record.
The ease of Hyatt’s first touchdown set the tone for what would be an easy night for No. 3 Tennessee, which danced past No. 19 Kentucky 44-6 Saturday night.
The Vols' defense was solid from the gate, not giving up a single yard on the Wildcats' first drive of the game and forcing the punt.
Kentucky made up for its first drive and scored on the second as Christopher Rodriguez capped of a 71-yard drive with a three-yard rushing touchdown. Tennessee's Da'Jon Terry was able to get to and block the PAT. The touchdown was Kentucky’s only score of the game.
“We misfit a couple of things,” head coach Josh Heupel said. “(Rodriguez) got going – and I mean got to the second level – and that’s an issue when he’s got the ball in his hands.”
Running back Jabari Small led the Vols to their second touchdown through a couple of good runs to get the ball down to the goal line, and Tennessee went back to Princeton Fant in the fullback slot to punch it in.
Tennessee got called for a hold on the PAT, and Chase McGrath missed the second attempt with it backed up 10 yards.
The Vols gained some breathing room after they marched 77 yards down the field to score on the next drive, giving them a 14 point cushion.
Kentucky was knocking late in the second quarter, pushing into the redzone, but Doneiko Slaughter made a big hit on a Kentucky receiver and Juwan Mitchell came down with the ball, taking it downfield to Kentucky's 45.
Tennessee tipped a Kentucky punt and got the ball on the Wildcats' 35 with time running down in the half, and Hooker connected with Hyatt, who was once again wide open in the end zone, giving the Vols a 27-6 lead heading into the half.
Hyatt's touchdown was his 14th of the season, giving him Tennessee's record for touchdowns in a season.
“I’m not even trying to think about the accolades,” Hyatt said. “We’ve got a big game this week.”
Kentucky's struggles only got worse in the third quarter. Will Levis gave up two of his three interceptions in the third to add to the offensive struggles. The Wildcats had just six total yards in the third.
Tennessee's defense allowed just 206 total yards on the game.
“I thought they did unbelievable job controlling and dominating the line of scrimmage,” Heupel said. “They did a great job matching guys on the back end. Just suffocating defense.”
The story of the Vols’ defense was Slaughter – who moved into a new position at the cornerback on Saturday. Along with the forced interception, Slaughter also had an interception of his own.
“I thought he went over there and did a really good job early on,” Heupel said. “His versatility is big for us.”
Up by 31 points in the fourth quarter, it was just a matter of running down the clock for the Vols.
Tennessee picked up another touchdown for good measure to make it 44-6 in the fourth on a 13-yard reception from Small.
Hooker had another solid outing as he continues his Heisman campaign, throwing for 245 yards for three touchdowns on 19/25 passing. He also had a touchdown on the ground.
“Coming in on a daily basis and making sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, motivating my teammates, locking into my assignment, communicating on a high level,” Hooker said. “That’s what I try to do day in and day out.”
Tennessee now turns its attention to one of the most important games of the season next week against Georgia in Athens.
“The reason we’ve found a way to get on the right side of it every week is because they’ve been focused,” Heupel said. “They prepare, they practice, they get themselves right emotionally and physical to go play hard once the ball’s kicked off.”