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Recapping the 2021 Orange and White Spring Game

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Harrison Bailey shined in his first performance under Josh Heupel.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Many are eager to see what Josh Heupel will do for the Tennessee Volunteers in his first year at the helm. He hasn’t inherited a very good situation, so it will be up to him to make everything work well enough to the point where the Vols can at least be competitive after a three-win season.

The 2021 Orange and White Spring Game was Vol Nation’s sneak peek into what the team will look like under Heupel. There was both good and bad, per the usual with a new head coaching regime.

Let’s dive into the action from Saturday’s game.


Drive No. 1: The offense goes three and out

Brian Mauer started at quarterback and Dee Beckwith took the opening handoff for the Orange Team. Mauer had really good pass protection on a third down pass, but couldn’t hit Romel Keyton deep down the right sideline. The run defense was effective, but there was zero pass rush on the deep throw to Keyton.

Drive No. 2: Hendon Hooker enters, but the ground game gets the Vols in the end zone

The run game worked really well on this drive. A nine-play, 70-yard touchdown drive is exactly what you want when you play in the SEC. Princeton Fant’s 18-yard catch-and-run was impressive. Hendon Hooker didn’t look good throwing the ball.

The offensive line moved bodies the entire drive, but the run defense also wasn’t good. Regardless, the front five were easily the highlight of the drive. The two penalties on offense weren’t good, but at least the unit overcame them.

White Team 7
Orange Team 0

Drive No. 3: Harrison Bailey for the win

I mean, this is what Vol Nation has been waiting to see. Bailey does an excellent job of manipulating the snap count and draws the defense offsides. He then realizes the fact that he has a free play, so he loads up and takes a shot downfield to Jack Jancek.

It’s a good throw that hits Jancek right on the back shoulder. Jancek does the rest and takes it to the house.

So, we have a run-heavy touchdown drive and a deep shot for the second touchdown drive. I’d say that’s an explosive, yet balanced offense. Wouldn’t you?

White Team 7
Orange Team 7

Drive No. 4: Brian Maurer shows off some skills

Maurer hits Jalin Hyatt on a 45-yard pass early on. He drops it right into Hyatt’s arms and then scrambles 17-yards and converts a 3rd and 10 a few plays later. The defense eventually tightens up and makes a stand, but the White Team still gets a field goal out of the deal thanks to Hyatt’s reception.

White Team 10
Orange Team 7

Drive No. 5: Harrison Bailey does it again

Now fans are just stupid-hype.

Bailey hits Velus Jones Jr. on a deep throw and then again down the sideline on a wheel route for the touchdown. The touchdown play was well-designed and the defense looked absolutely lost. A very quick-tempo so far, evidenced by another three-play, 70+-yard touchdown drive.

White Team 10
Orange Team 14

Drive No. 6: The rushing offense dominates, again

It all started with a 27-yard run on the opening play. The run game powered another scoring drive for the White Team’s second touchdown. Hooker capped off an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a touchdown run of his own. He has definitely been more effective on the ground so far, but he did look better when throwing on this drive.

White Team 17
Orange Team 14

Drive No. 7: The second three and out

Maurer and co. couldn’t get much done. He was off on one throw and the defense played well enough to own the other two reps. The Orange Team punted the ball away.

Drive No. 8: The defense comes through with another big play

Jaylen Wright tries to bounce a run outside on 3rd and 1, but is stopped behind the line of scrimmage. Excellent tackling by the defender forces the White Team to punt. If Wright would’ve just fallen forward, he would’ve had the conversion.

You can tell there are going to be a lot of screens in this offense. So far, Tennessee has been pretty good at pulling them off.

*Insert Jarrett Guarantano-screen pass joke here

Drive No. 9: Defensive miscues lead to a big touchdown

A nice pass break-up by Will Brooks put the Orange Team in a 3rd and 10. It looked like the defense was going to get another big stop. It looked even better when the offensive committed a false start penalty to make it 3rd and 15.

That idea ended quickly, however, as an offside call gave the offense another shot to convert the third down and as a result, Maurer was able to find Jancek downfield for a 64-yard pass. It was a great play by Maurer, who scrambled out of the pocket and made a perfect throw on the run. The Orange Team punched it into the end zone a couple of plays later.

Penalties have been very present up to this point and they finally bit the Vols. This can’t happen in 2021.

White Team 17
Orange Team 21

Drive No. 10: We have our first defensive touchdown of the game

Hooker continues to struggle throwing the ball, but in his defense, Warren Burrell makes a great read on the play. He steps in front of the intended receiver and takes it 34-yards to the house.

White Team 17
Orange Team 28

Drive No. 11: An injury bogs down an excellent drive on offense

Ja’Quain Blakely was hurt on the first play of this drive, which is even lower than the last thing you want during a spring game.

Bailey is not just making plays, but he’s throwing and making decisions with confidence. He looks completely in control of the offense as he hits another deep shot on this drive. Great execution highlights Jabari Small’s seven-yard touchdown run. Overall, Heupel’s offense looked like a top-10 unit on this drive. Great playcalling and really bad defense were the catalysts.

White Team 24
Orange Team 28

Drive No. 12: Three and out, again

Inconsistency has been Maurer’s issue and that’s been the case so far. He’s capable of leading the offense on scoring drives and making plays, but he just doesn’t do it often enough.

Drive No. 13: Heupel cuts it short

What looked like a preview of the Vols’ two-minute drill was cut short for an unknown reason. Heupel pulled the plug with around 1:33 left in the first half.

Drive No. 14: Harrison Bailey continues to pull away from the pack, but another injury puts a damper on the drive

Bailey came firing right out of the gate, completing a 24-yard pass to Andison Coby on the first play of the second half. He continued to show tremendous pocket presence and poise, while looking extremely comfortable in the offense. Left tackle K’Rojhn Calbert was hurt on this drive, which is not good.

Bailey showed off his legs with a nice scramble and drew the defense offside for the second time today. A DPI on Burrell put the ball at the 2 and Tiyon Evans ran through a wide-open hole for his first touchdown of the game.

White Team 24
Orange Team 35

Drive No. 15: Defensive miscues lead to another touchdown

It looked like the offense was going to go three and out, but Doneiko Slaughter is hit with a questionable targeting call that not only gives the offense a first down, but results in his ejection from the game. Cedric Tillman makes a great play off an errant throw by Mauer and Small pounds it in for another touchdown.

White Team 31
Orange Team 35

Drive No. 16: A new quarterback and a walk-on make good first impressions

Spencer Smith comes in on this drive and takes the Orange Team down the field for another touchdown. Fred Orr opened the drive with two carries for 33 yards and Smith hits his tight end that gets the Orange down to the 1.

Anthony Malone, a walk-on from Murfreesboro punches it in on the next play to essentially seal the deal.

White Team 31
Orange Team 42

Drive No. 17: Hendon Hooker makes an excellent closing argument

Hooker didn’t have that great of a day throwing the ball, but he had a helluva final drive. He completed all five throws for 69-yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was a thing of beauty. Hooker hit Tillman for a 29-yard score, but Tillman made an extremely impressive grab, maintaining possession as he fell into the end zone.

White Team 37
Orange Team 42

This would be the final play of the day as the Orange Team would go on to win, 42-37.


What was your favorite moment from the game? Let us know in the comment section below!