In Josh Heupel’s fifth game at Tennessee, the Volunteers put a complete game together and smoked Missouri to the tune of 62-24. It was a dominant performance at the line of scrimmage, really on both sides of the ball. Tennessee fans were looking for something to sink their teeth into with this staff, and they got it on Saturday.
In today’s stock report, you won’t see any red on the screen — it was that good of a day for Tennessee. Let’s dive in.
Stock Up: Coaching Staff
Josh Heupel’s staff, really top to bottom, continues to impress in their first year on the job. Even through the early week struggles, you could see that the schemes were working on the offensive side of the ball. Receivers were coming open all over the field, it was just a simple lack of execution from the quarterback position. Now with Hendon Hooker in place, things are showing signs of consistency. Hooker is obviously a little more physically limited as a passer, but the overall efficiency is up.
The staff identified a weakness last Saturday and exploited it over and over again. Obviously, Missouri’s 129th ranked run defense was an easy hole to find. But credit the staff for keeping things simple and easy here — we’ve seen other staffs overcomplicate things in the past. They couldn’t stop Tennessee and the gameplan never changed.
Defensively, Tim Banks continues to impress. The roster doesn’t have the depth he needs, and this staff did a nice job patch-working in the transfer portal during the offseason. Tennessee still lacks a consistent pass rush, but the defensive interior has been really impressive. Rodney Garner already deserves a raise for his work with this defensive line.
Things will obviously get tougher with the schedule here, but I’m already more confident in the X’s and O’s of this staff than the last one.
Stock Up: Hendon Hooker
Finally, Tennessee’s quarterback situation seems settled. Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker didn’t win the job during camp, but his results since replacing Joe Milton have been impressive. The deep looks that Milton offered were tantalizing, but his inability to hit any of them rendered him virtually useless. With Hooker, you’ve got a more dynamic rushing attack and a veteran arm capable of at least keeping the passing attack afloat.
Quietly, Hooker is up to 838 yards passing and ten touchdowns on the year. He’s thrown just one interception, and added 216 yards rushing. He doesn’t quite have the arm Heupel would like, but you can’t argue those results right now. As Tennessee gets into the toughest part of the schedule, Hooker’s steady hand should be valuable to this coaching staff.
Stock Up: Jeremy Banks
Jeremy Banks has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride since he stepped foot on campus. From his time as a bruising running back, to asking to switch to linebacker, to being kicked off the team, to being added back to the team, to becoming a defensive starter — Banks has seen it all.
On the field, Banks has been up and down as a linebacker. The physical talent has been there, but the mental errors in run gaps, coverage and even sometimes after the whistle have been questioned. However, it sure seems like we’re watching a guy mature and develop, and that was on display against Missouri.
Banks nearly took an interception back to the house, recorded a sack and added two tackles for loss. He had a lot put on his plate with Juwan Mitchell out, and responded in a big way, helping to bottle up Missouri running back Tyler Badie to just 41 yards rushing.
- Byron Young: The JUCO product flashed on Saturday, recording a couple of pressures and registering a tackle for loss. Tennessee is going to need him totally up to speed with a tough stretch coming.
- Velus Jones: After a slow start thanks to injury, Jones has now become a big part of this offense. He caught seven passes for 79 yards, and has really come on with Hooker running the offense.
- JaVonta Payton: The volume might not be there for Payton, but he’s emerged as a downfield threat with Jalin Hyatt banged up.
- Tamarion McDonald: Another young player that is seemingly taking the next step forward, McDonald was the second leading tackler on the team on Saturday.
- Defensive front: Name a contributor here and they likely had a pretty good day. As noted above, Rodney Garner’s work here has been very impressive.
- Tiyon Evans: A 92 yard touchdown run set the tone for the rest of the day as Tennessee quickly pulled away. Evans was put on ice early, but still handled 15 carries and scored three times — four if you count the one that the referees robbed him of late. I think we were all worried about losing Eric Gray over the offseason, but Evans might be just as talented.