If you watched the Tennessee game on Saturday, you witnessed something that hasn’t happened since 1951. The Vols rushed for 458 yards against a pretty rough Missouri defense. That itself was impressive, but how they did it stood out the most.
The Vols offensive line wasn’t healthy against the Tigers. They were missing their starting center and had to fill a gap at guard. But by the end of the first quarter, it was hard to tell that anything was wrong at the line of scrimmage. Tennessee took the Missouri defensive line, pushed them to the side, and opened up running lanes for their group of backs.
It was almost too easy at times, but that shouldn’t take away from what they accomplished. This was the type of offensive performance that Tennessee fans have been craving for years, and the team delivered on Saturday.
The Vols were led by Hendon Hooker, who had complete control of the offense. He went for 225 yards through the air and 80 yards on the ground. The veteran QB finished the game with four touchdowns, clearing the way for Josh Heupel to publicly name him the starter on Monday. This is the first time Heupel has named a starting QB during the week, and I liked it. It further solidifies his confidence in Hooker.
In the Florida game, the Vols found success on offense in the first half, but then stalled in the second half and gave themselves little chance to win. A lot of that had to do with the fact the Vols’ defense didn’t have an answer for Emory Jones, but on Saturday, they had an answer for the Missouri passing attack. They forced two Connor Bazelak interceptions.
Tennessee also had success with the WR rotation, and Cedric Tillman, Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton all played key parts in the victory and all three had touchdown catches as well. So, Josh Heupel has turned to his veteran playmakers, hoping they’d step up and lead the team. Well, he go that right, so even the running backs had an opportunity to test the Tigers vertically.
I know the Missouri matchup was only one game, but the Vols looked better in multiple facets. The biggest question about this Tennessee team is can they build off of this success and deliver again this week?
The Vols have scored 38 points or more in four of their five games this season. Yes, I know that two of those games were against cupcakes, but it’s still better than what fans have seen over the previous four years. The defense has also played better than most expected, even though they don’t have nearly the depth they need.
On Monday, Josh Heupel officially named Hendon Hooker the starting quarterback, something he hasn’t done this season, leaving it to a game time decision.
“Hendon will be the one this week, yes.”
Asked about what he saw from Hooker against Missouri, Heupel was quick to compliment the transfer quarterback.
“Has been better taking care of the football with the ball in his hands. Some of our meshes have been better, more consistent. Think that happens as you get more time on task together with the same guys. I think as much as anything, great comfort and understanding in what we’re doing. The tempo, he’s been really in control of what’s going on at the line of scrimmage”.
So can this Tennessee team sustain success in back-to-back weeks? It wouldn’t surprise me to see this squad come out and put up over 35 points against the Gamecocks. Right now, the only thing I trust about South Carolina is their front four on defense, so this will be a nice test for the Vols’ offensive line.
This team has now found success on offense, but can they do it twice in seven days? Only time will tell. Hooker’s success against Missouri is something he could definitely duplicate against South Carolina, though his offense may not put up 62 points. Still, I like their chances. The veteran players got a taste of a dominant win over an SEC opponent, not one from the FCS or the lower tier of the NCAA, so now they want more.
It’s only one game, but that one game can lead to further success. Now, we will see how Tennessee handles it.