Tennessee went on the road and beat Kentucky in a wild one on Saturday night — a game that featured 87 points and well over 1,000 yards of combined total offense. The Volunteers came out on top despite holding possession of the ball for just 13:52. In that short amount of time, Tennessee put up 461 yards.
They were assisted by a pick six from Alontae Taylor, but Heupel’s lightning-fast system was on full display against a pretty good Kentucky defense. Big plays to JaVonta Payton, Velus Jones Jr. and Jalin Hyatt had Tennessee off and running in the first quarter. Cedric Tillman did more damage late.
Fresh off of the loss, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops explained why the Tennessee offense is so hard to defend.
“The way they go so fast that there’s — it’s extremely difficult to get any type of different style, different calls in,” Stoops said. “And it goes so fast that, you know, you’ve really got to be lined up, locked in, and getting the calls, and then executing them. But then you have to win. You have to win. Because they have good balance as well. They’re going to run it and run it effectively, but then put you in those one-on-one situations outside.”
Heupel’s scheme has masked some overall talent issues on his year one team. Hendon Hooker’s efficiency has sent everything over the top. We’ve talked a lot about it, but the mix of tempo and wide splits puts a lot of stress on defenses. The entire field gets spread out, and Tennessee is simply playing a numbers game from there.
“A lot of it is because of those splits that they have, if you see how wide they are,” Stoops continued. “So I think that’s a big piece of it is they stretch out, you know, both ways. And there’s a lot of room in there. You’re all cleared out and you cover the shots, got you covered. And then you split them and there is some room in there, the quarterback. And when you have a quarterback run game or just him making plays with his legs, it’s tough.”
The Tennessee offense is now ranked 21st in the country in total offense. They’re 18th in rushing offense and 58th in passing offense. Per ESPN’s FPI, the Volunteers have the 22nd most efficient offense in the country. This just one season removed from another dismal season under Jeremy Pruitt and Jim Chaney.
Coaching matters. A total philosophy change has taken Tennessee from laughing stock to competitive instantaneously. Now with a solid foundation laid, I’m interested to see what Heupel can build over the next couple of years in Knoxville.