It was a brutal end to a fun ride. Tennessee football was having a magical season expecting to make the College Football Playoff, but the Vols threw it all away with a 63-38 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks Saturday. All of their hopes were dashed on one play, when Hooker slid and tore his ACL on an option.
That ended any chance of a Vols comeback in that game as they trailed 49-31, which also meant the end of their playoff chances. Adding insult to injury, it resulted in a fumble. However, it also ended Hooker’s career at UT, as it was confirmed Sunday he’d be out for the season.
Taking all of this into account, it might be the worst play in Tennessee football history. However, rather than wallow in what happened, it’s time to celebrate arguably the greatest quarterback on Rocky Top since Peyton Manning. Assuming this doesn’t derail Hooker’s NFL hopes, all you can do is look back on the ride.
Remember, here is a guy who transferred to the Vols in January of 2021 after a rocky road with the Virginia Tech Hokies. Less than a month into his transfer, the coach he committed to was fired, and the program he committed to was facing serious violations after going 3-7.
Then the new head coach brought in his own quarterback, and Hooker found out he was going to be the backup when his first season began. Just 14 months later, he was a Heisman candidate and had the program in the hunt for the College Football Playoff.
When you bring in perspective, that’s a great ride. Hooker achieved iconic status with Tennessee football, and on a personal level, he also massively boosted his draft stock, even with this injury. Sure, he won’t be able to finish his career with UT, but in a bittersweet feeling, at least there’s no playoff he’ll miss out on.
The guy finishes his career at UT playing for Josh Heupel having completed 435-of-632 passes (68.8 percent) for 6,080 yards (9.62 yards per attempt), 58 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also had 1,046 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on 170 carries.
All of this was in just 23 games, yet it puts him No. 8 all time on the school’s career passing yards list, No. 5 all time for career passing touchdowns, and No. 6 all time for career total offense and total touchdowns. Those are pretty impressive numbers.
Beyond that, Hooker’s 2022 season was No. 5 all time for single season passing yards in UT history and tied for No. 5 in single season touchdowns. His 2021 season was No. 4 all time for single season passing yards, so he was on the list twice.
In terms of single season total offense, Hooker’s 2021 and 2022 seasons are No. 5 and No. 4 respectively all time, the only player to have two slots in the top five. Those seasons are No. 3 and No. 5 respectively in total touchdowns.
Then there’s just the fact that Hooker resurrected Tennessee football. He is the first quarterback to beat the Florida Gators and Alabama Crimson Tide in the same season since 2004, ending a five-game losing streak and 15-game losing streak respectively in those series.
Hooker also scored a top five win beating Alabama, the first for the Vols since the LSU Tigers in 2005. He got UT into the top five for the first time since 2005 and for the first time in November since 2001, and he may have played a huge role in them finishing the season in the top 10 for the first time since 2001.
Taking all of this into account, while it ended in the most brutal way, it’s time for reflection, and nobody saw this coming when Hooker took over Tennessee football. The future is bright for the Vols, but whatever they do going forward with Heupel, it’ll all come back to Hooker and what he helped build.