Tennessee football Smokey points: Top 5 Vols performers vs. ETSU Bucs

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 08: Darrin Kirkland Jr. #34 of the Tennessee Volunteers returns an interception for a touchdown during a game against the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers at Neyland Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennesee won the game 59-3. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)
KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 08: Darrin Kirkland Jr. #34 of the Tennessee Volunteers returns an interception for a touchdown during a game against the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers at Neyland Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennesee won the game 59-3. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images
Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images /

We now go to the players who were impact guys throughout the game but also had a couple of splash big plays. Darrin Kirkland Jr. is one of those guys, and that’s why he’s so high on our list of Tennessee football Smokey points winners.

After missing all of last season due to injury and then almost leaving the team in the offseason, Kirkland has come back strong for the Vols this year. He made this list for the second straight week and, probably thanks to his photographic memory, he has been able to pick up the transition to the 3-4 better than most guys.

In this game, Kirkland tied numerous other guys by finishing third on the team in tackles with four. To be fair, though, Jeremy Pruitt’s willingness to spread the wealth of players was naturally going to keep lots of defenders’ stats low.

Kirkland also had a tackle for a loss, which counts for something as well. But then there’s the key play that puts him on this list. That play was the pick-six off a tipped pass that Kirkland got. He was the second defender to score a touchdown in the game.

Doing that combined with his overall stat line is more than enough to put him on this list. That play even further broke the game open, giving the Vols a 31-0 lead, which they took into halftime. Kirkland was able to give the Vols complete control to the point that they could pull their starters. So his big play was also key to the game as well.