Josh Heupel may not have been the first choice among Tennessee fans to take over the program, but considering the NCAA uncertainty now surrounding the job, it was an easy hire for Danny White to make. The two have experience together and White knows exactly what he’s getting in Heupel. He’s hoping that continuity will steer the Volunteers out of this decade-long tailspin.
Heupel at least brings one thing to the table for sure, which is the ability to score points. His offenses have lived inside of the top ten for years now at multiple stops as both a head coach and offensive coordinator. He comes to a place that hasn’t experienced good offense since the Josh Dobbs era, and even that was mostly about Dobbs or Alvin Kamara going out and simply making plays that nobody else could make.
Tennessee will transition out of the standard I-Formation looks and into a spread attack that derives from the old Baylor offense. Spreading the field out and turning the offense into a numbers game could bring the Vols instant success, regardless of whether or not they have elite talent on the field.
Over at PFF, Seth Galina took a look at some specific differences in offensive approach from the 2020 season. The results offered a stunning contrast.
2020 RPO Rate
2020 Deep Pass Rate
2020 Screen Rate
2020 Play Action Rate
The Heupel offense is a chip off the old Baylor offense from the early 2010s. It’s performed via a quick diagnosis of pre-snap space and then executed via a power run game inside or a one-on-one vertical shot outside. In an ideal world, they would love to use the one-high versus two-high binary against the defenses they play. When teams show a single-high safety against them, it means they are going to have access to vertical shots on the outside down the sideline. And when teams show a two-high safety against them, it’s the slot receivers who can now play in space.
Tennessee has an interesting mix returning at receiver, maybe with only two guys coming back as being proven. Jalin Hyatt fits the bill as a receiver that can stretch the field, while Velus Jones Jr. could easily eat up some of those slot snaps. Ramel Keyton, Cedric Tillman, Malachi Wideman, Jimmy Calloway and Jimmy Holiday make up the rest of the puzzle.
At quarterback, we could be in for a legitimate battle with Harrison Bailey and Hendon Hooker. Obviously, each guy offers a different style, it may just come down to who takes to the offense quicker. With each man starting from ground zero, we shouldn’t totally leave out freshman Kaidon salter or sophomore Brian Maurer either.
If you’re like me, the hire came off as average from the jump. But the more you dive into things, the thought of scoring a lot of points after what we’ve seen over the past four years is enough to at least be excited about a change of pace. We’ll see about the rest as we go.