Tennessee’s frustrating loss to Pittsburgh goes all the way back to the first quarter. The Volunteers had a chance to bury the Panthers — legitimately a chance to go up by four scores. However, several overthrows spoiled that chance.
Joe Milton continued a trend that we saw in week one, firing over the heads of receivers down the field. While it was frustrating to watch, it was also noteworthy that the scheme of Josh Heupel was working, the throws just weren’t there.
Tennessee has some real talent at receiver, and their athleticism was on display early despite the misfires.
“I thought we did a really good job of game-planning Pitt, trying to get some guys open, free some guys up on some free runs,” Tennessee receivers coach Kodi Burns said. “But also I think they went out there and did their part as far as trying to run by guys. And listen, we’re young in the offense, we’re young at receiver as well, and really when you look at it, all the quarterbacks are really young as well. So we’ve just got to continue to grow. We’re going to hit those balls. It’s just a matter of time.”
Milton left the game due to injury, which came at the height of his struggles. It would have been interesting to see how the staff handled the rest of that game had he been healthy. Hendon Hooker entered the game in his place, eventually settling in for a decent afternoon.
It remains to be seen what Tennessee will do going forward at the position, as Milton tries to get back to 100 percent.
“Coach Heup said that it’s a race to be as good as we can as fast as we can, and so you’re going to see each week, we’re going to continue to progress each week and get better,” Burns said. “We’re going to start connecting on those big balls. Those are really what changes the games. I mean, you’ve got guys running down the field, if we connect on a couple of those balls, whether it be via drops or overthrows it doesn’t matter, there’s no blame on anybody. We’ve just got to continue to get continuity, continue to be cohesive and make those plays and that’ll change the game for sure.”
Burns is correct — hitting a couple of those throws would have changed the game in a big way. Through all the mess and injuries, Tennessee clawed back to stay alive in the fourth quarter, finding a chance to tie the game late. They came up short, but they’re likely not even in that position if they hit some of those open throws in the first quarter.
My biggest takeaway from the game was that the opportunities were at least there, though. Tennessee could have very easily won that game, and the offensive scheme certainly doesn’t seem to be the problem. JaVonta Payton, Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman and Jimmy Calloway each got free behind the Pitt secondary, taking advantage of tempo to consistently beat their defender.
Tennessee badly needs to grow some chemistry against Tennessee Tech this weekend before rolling down to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators.