Tennessee Continues To Raise The Stakes Under Josh Heupel; Showed Up Like The ‘National Guard’ Against LSU

BATON ROUGE — I’ve covered a lot of football games in my career, but what I saw today out of Tennessee and its fans was stunning.

The amount of orange in Baton Rouge wasn’t the shocking part, it was how much they’d bought back into this program.

Not only did Josh Heupel and the Vols fly into Baton Rouge with a purpose, but they brought down the hammer on LSU, thanks to Hendon Hooker and company.

No, I am not implying that the Vols will be playing for a playoff spot at the end of the season, but they’re doing enough in the first two months to be taken seriously.

Playing without their star receiver Cedric Tillman and starting left tackle Gerald Mincey, Tennessee took the lead and never looked back.

Josh Heupel and a radio affiliate have a discussion at halftime.

When was the last time you could say this about the team located in Knoxville?

Spoiler alert, it’s been a long time.

Vols, Heupel and Hooker Tame The Tigers

Not only did the Vols demolish LSU 40-13, but Josh Heupel out-coached Brian Kelly.

Now those are words I didn’t expect to be writing before the season started.

What Heupel has done in just seventeen games is remarkable, but when you get the team to buy into what you’re selling, life is much easier as a coach.

What this team has also done during this stretch is provide a hungry fan base with something to be excited about.

Judging by the crowd in Baton Rouge, the fans dressed in orange have bought into Josh Heupel, to the liking of athletic director Danny White.

Again, it’s been a while since the Vols have handled business in a game they were supposed to win. Fans are no longer being asked by the administration to buy into the program.

The support has grown organically through the play of a stellar offense, led by Hendon Hooker. But it’s also the defense that has garnered love, holding the Tigers to 55 yards rushing, with Jayden Daniels rushing for 38 yards.

Hendon Hooker finished the game 17-of-27 for 239 yards and 2 touchdowns, while also rushing for 56 yards.

I know, you’ve heard it before regarding Tennessee, but this time it actually feels like they have enough momentum to carry this one. Sitting in the corner, watching fans of the Vols lose their minds after every positive play — it was a call-back to the old days when fans wearing orange would take over the stadium on the road.

“To be honest, it didn’t even feel like we were on the road,” Jalin Hyatt said postgame.

I can’t disagree with that statement, with the postgame celebration turning into a party that spilled on out in the streets.

Tennessee fans take over LSU’s Stadium

Behind Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt, Bru McCoy and Jabari Small, Tennessee racked up 502 yards of total offense. This led many LSU fans to get out of the stadium in time for an afternoon lunch.

What Does This Win Prove?

It certainly proves they can win on the road when they are expected to.

After defeating Pittsburgh earlier this season and winning today at Tiger Stadium, this group has shown maturity. It’s obvious that these players are feeding off the coaching staff, without many mistakes on Saturday.

An upcoming game next weekend against Alabama will give fans a clear look at how good this team can really be.

Missing Cedric Tillman wasn’t the end of the world against Saturday, but that’s due to the coaching staff having enough faith in the backups. Having a player like Ramel Keyton step into the role is a testament to the amount of depth this team really has at certain spots.

So where does Tennessee go from here? Well, the Vols host No. 1 Alabama next Saturday in Knoxville. This will certainly be the biggest ‘Third Saturday In October’ in recent memory, with both teams ranked in the top ten.

How Tennessee Got To This Point Is the Bigger Story, No Matter What Happens Next Weekend

This isn’t only because of the record, but also in part because of Josh Heupel.

What he’s been able to do with this offense should be praised. While his defense, led by DC Tim Banks, has continued to prove they can be a problem, even with an offense that doesn’t give them much time to rest.

But we’ve come to the point in this tenure where belief is turning into reality. What was once thought of by many as an average hire has changed … Josh Heupel continues to prove he was the right man for the job.

Tennessee HC Josh Heupel Shares Postgame Hugs. Via: Trey Wallace

I watched Heupel go up to every coach following the game, giving them each a hug, then soaking in the moment with his team. He was anxious, though, as he waved his team into the locker room while the crowd still celebrated.

Heupel had a lot to say to this team that continues to believe in the process.

Again, I am not saying this team will be one of the four left standing in November, but they darn sure have an opportunity to make things interesting. Not many people would’ve thought we’d be giving this much attention to Tennessee, just eighteen games into the Josh Heupel era.

Leaving the stadium, I asked a few Tennessee fans what they were thinking about the win, with one response standing out the most.

“Man, it just feels good to be winning again. You give us fans a sense of hope and we’ll show up like the National Guard. That was the most fun I’ve had at a game in a long time. Honestly, I’m just grateful, it’s been too damn long since I’ve felt like this.”

Hey Josh Heupel and the Vols, now we’re talking.

Written by Trey Wallace

Wallace started covering the SEC in 2012, as the conference landscape was beginning to change. Prior to his time in Knoxville, Wallace worked in Nashville for The Read Optional, where he first produced content that garnered national attention. His passion for sports is evident in his work and has led him to break some of college football’s biggest stories. His social media reach and natural podcast proficiency continue to make Wallace one of SEC’s most trusted sources.

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