Tennessee Looking To Turn The Page As They Prepare For Alabama

The Tennessee football team is looking to turn the page towards Alabama after dropping a close game on Saturday night against Ole Miss. In what turned out to be a spectacular environment for college football, minus the last few minutes, this team was playing good enough football to defeat the 13th ranked team in the country. Yes, a lot of things went wrong against the Rebels, but there was no doubt about the effort, for all sixty minutes, Heupel pointed out on Monday.

The Vols looked like a football team that had taken gigantic steps in the first half of the season, and they were 20 yards away from finishing off the gutsy performance. But unfortunately, they couldn’t take advantage of the three opportunities they had in the 4th quarter to take the lead. Even holding the Ole Miss offense to one touchdown in the second half couldn’t propel the Vols to victory. But their performance shows this team is still on the right track for success.

Courtesy Of UT Athletics

Josh Heupel was asked after the game what he learned about his team against the Rebels, and he hammered on the competitive spirit throughout all four quarters.

“Defensively, you force a punt on the first drive. We dropped the punt and then gave them a short field. They capitalized offensively. I thought we did some things to stop drives and had self-inflicted wounds. Guys continued to fight and compete. We got a short field and were able to make a couple of plays and get the ball into the end zone with Cedric (Tillman). We were able to get a field goal before the half. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and obviously, we came up on the wrong side of it. I felt like the guys never felt like we were out of it, and their body language, energy, effort, strength and competitive spirit never changed during the course of the game. We continued to fight, and that’s the positive from tonight.”

There is not one person who watched that game on Saturday that doesn’t think Matt Corral has a shot at the Heisman Trophy. Corral rushed for 195 yards and passed for another 231 yards against Tennessee, finishing the night with two touchdowns. But one of the key takeaways for me was the overall play of the defense, bending but not breaking in the second half. A key factor that hampered the Vols for most of the game was Ole Miss going 2-3 on 4th down conversions, something the Vols defense clearly must clean up.

On the offensive side of the ball, I thought Tennessee let the Rebels off the hook in the first half when it came to Hooker running the football. It appeared that Heupel only called a few design runs for the QB, so Ole Miss stacked the box and pressured Hendon for four sacks. If this team is going to play with Alabama, they must attack the Tide with the QB’s legs, no matter who plays. Even though they came out hot in the first series of the 3rd quarter, which resulted in a touchdown, it felt as though they settled at times and didn’t expose the Rebels’ run defense.

This team has the players to hang with anybody on offense, when they are healthy. The main concern for the Alabama game is who will be healthy enough to play. The Vols have a quarterback who’s pretty banged up, and Heupel called him day to day on Monday. He also pointed out that Cade Mays and Tiyon Evans are in the same boat. If Tennessee cannot get Cade or Cooper Mays back for Saturday night, then this staff will have to piece together another offensive line that includes Dayne Davis and Ollie Lane.

It will be hard to replace Hendon Hooker if he cannot play against Alabama. He had 233 yards passing and 108 yards rushing for 2 touchdowns against Ole Miss before he was injured late in the 4th quarter. He has simply taken over the position and continues to be a clear threat to opposing defenses. So, it will be interesting to see how this coaching staff works on preparing Joe Milton this week, if he’s the starter on Saturday.

Courtesy UT Athletics

This football team gave life to Neyland Stadium this past weekend, something we haven’t seen in a very long time, and Josh Heupel was proud of his players for giving their all to build it back up over these past eight months.

“I think it’s been built by our players: there’s enthusiasm, excitement, and belief about the progress that our players are making on the field. I’m proud of them for building that, but we’re just starting our journey together. Our fanbase is passionate and prideful just like our players are. Tonight was a showcase of what Vol Nation is about. If you come down and make a turn towards Gate 21, the gallery was as deep as you could see. It was a phenomenal atmosphere that was created, and for four-and-a-half hours, it was electric. Our fans showed out in a great way, and this is why I wanted to be here. I believe in the power of the T, this athletic department, and this fanbase.”

So, now the difficult road continues, as the Vols play their next three games against teams ranked in the top 20. It won’t be an easy task since they are currently struggling to stay healthy, but this team still has an opportunity for seven wins.

Alabama and Georgia are just on a different level right now, but it’s not like this team just folds up. They will fight you, and they will fight you for four quarters, no matter the score.

This football team has one game left before getting a much needed bye week. So, I don’t doubt for one minute they will bring everything they’ve got to Tuscaloosa, no matter what kind of odds are stacked against them.

Not everything that came out of that football game against Ole Miss was bad. We’re learning more about this team every week, and effort isn’t something they lack.


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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  1. The main problem UT ran into in the first half against Ole Miss (besides the punt fumble) was losing time of possession. They had 3 of 4 drives go 3-and-out in one stretch in the first half. That led to a 2-1 time of possession advantage in the half for Ole Miss that completely gassed the Tennessee D. Ole Miss ended up running 101 plays! The hurry up works nicely when you’re getting first downs, but if you go three and out in that offense you will absolutely kill your defense. This same problem was a big reason Butch Jones was axed. Poor execution in the first half put UT in a 24-9 hole they shouldn’t have been in. Give Ole Miss credit for capitalizing, but that’s really frustrating to watch. If UT does the same poor job executing against Bama it will get ugly. To win these big games the offense can’t check out for 3-4 possessions and hope to turn it back on later.

  2. I don’t know where you’re getting this optimism from. Tennessee will be choosing between a quarterback with a fresh right leg injury or a guy who runs out of bounds on the last play of the game to avoid a hit even when his team is losing. Alabama is going to boat race them.

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