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Big Orange Bounce Back

Josh Heupel has lost back-to-back games only twice in his six seasons as a head coach. He owns an 11-2 record following a loss in the same season, including a 6-1 mark at Tennessee and 5-1 record at UCF. The only time it occurred at UT was in his fi rst season in 2021 as the Vols dropped back-to-back games to No. 13 Ole Miss and No. 4 Alabama. UT has responded with wins the following week after a loss fi ve straight times under Heupel with three of those victories coming on the road, in-cluding a 45-42 win at No. 18 Kentucky in 2021. The Vols beat UTSA, 45-14, at home following their loss to Florida earlier this year.Tennessee’s special teams have provided a big boost this season, specifi cally the punt and punt return units. Return spe-cialist Dee Williams ranks second in the SEC and third nation-ally in punt return average this season at 17.7. Williams notched his second career punt return touchdown with a 39-yarder in the third quarter versus Texas A&M on Oct. 14 that changed the game. He was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week in the win.On the fl ip side, redshirt freshman punter Jackson Ross con-tinues to be a weapon for the Big Orange, as well. The Australian ranks sixth in the SEC in punting average at 43.8 yards per punt with seven 50-plus yarders and 12 downed inside the 20. Ross shattered the Tennessee single-game record for punting average last weekend at Alabama, booting the ball fi ve times for 266 yards (53.2 avg). The previous record of 53.0 was established twice by Jimmy Colquitt (vs. Auburn, 1983; at LSU, 1982). Ross’ average was boosted by a career-long 71-yard punt in the fourth quarter, which was the longest punt by a Vol since Joe Doyle also had a 71-yarder against Georgia on Sept. 29, 2018.In now three seasons under defensive coordinator Tim Banks, the Vols lead the SEC in tackles for loss per game with 7.67 since the start of the 2021 season. They have amassed 253 TFLs and 48 takeaways during that span. In its last 36 quarters of football entering the Kentucky game, Banks’ unit has racked up 77 tackles for loss and 35 sacks.Tennessee is second in the SEC and sixth nationally in tack-les for loss per game with 8.1. They are also second in the SEC and tied for 11th in the FBS in total tackles for loss with 57.0. The Big Orange rank second in the SEC and fourth in the FBS in sacks per game with 4.0 and have recorded 28 total sacks, which is third in the SEC and fi fth nationally. UT has registered at least one sack in 11 consecutive games dating back to last season’s contest against Missouri on Nov. 12.Tennessee built a 20-7 halftime lead, giving Alabama its largest home halftime defi cit in Bryant-Denny Stadium since 2019, but the ninth-ranked Tide outscored the Vols 27-0 in the second half to come away with a 34-20 victory in Tuscaloosa.Joe Milton III fi nished the game 28-of-41 through the air with 271 yards passing, a pair of fi rst-half touchdowns and no interceptions. He added a team-high 59 yards on the ground and fi red touchdown passes to Squirrel White (39 yards) and McCal-lan Castles (six yards). White went over 100 yards for the second time in three games, fi nishing with a career-best 10 catches for 111 yards. Charles Campbell drilled a pair of first-half fi eld goals (24, 26), and Jackson Ross set the UT single-game record for punting average (min. 5 punts), booting the ball fi ve times for 266 yards for an average of 53.2.Tamarion McDonald was the Vols’ leading tackler with 10 while Gabe Jeudy-Lally, Joshua Josephs and James Pearce Jr. each registered sacks. Pearce’s was also a forced fumble, mark-ing his third straight game with a sack. The Vols outgained the Tide 404-358 offensively but were 0-of-3 on fourth down in the loss.

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