Finally, after eight months of talk, Tennessee fans got their first official look at the Josh Heupel offense in action. The spread, up-tempo system is just about the exact opposite of what we saw from Jeremy Pruitt and Jim Chaney last season, which was a welcomed change of pace.
The results, at least right out of the gates against an inferior opponent, were mixed. The Tennessee offense fired off nicely, manufacturing two quick touchdown drives in a matter of minutes. However, after that, things got tougher. Quarterback Joe Milton’s hot start didn’t last, as he completed just two passes after the first quarter.
The Volunteers leaned on the run game for the rest of the way, putting Bowling Green away in the third quarter. After watching the tape, Heupel shared his thoughts on the unit as a whole on Monday.
“Offensively, I thought the front five and tight ends played extremely hard,” Heupel said. “There were some things that we obviously have to correct in the pass game. Everybody played a part in that. Quarterback having his eyes in the right spot and delivering the ball, wide receivers understanding what we’re asking them to do and being able to read coverage and sit in the right zone, finish it with a throw and a catch, accuracy or catching the football, and then a couple of busts in protection that we need to clean up so we can sit in the pocket and deliver it.”
Jalin Hyatt had a couple of key drops that would have made Milton’s night look much better, while Milton himself misfired on multiple deep attempts that were open. Like Heupel said, mistakes were made by the receivers as well, who it sounds like may have missed a couple of reads in coverage.
It was game one, however, so there’s plenty of time to correct these issues. At least during the first two drives though, you saw what the product was supposed to look like.
“When it looked good, all 11 were operating as one,” Heupel said. “When it didn’t, somebody was off. We’ve got to have great fundamentals and technique, learn from those things and get better this week. Certainly can do that.”
Growing pains were always going to be part of year one, with such a dramatically different approach coming in. We all would have liked to have seen the passing attack find its rhythm again on Thursday, especially with a stiff non-conference test in Pitt coming to town this weekend.
Now the offense, specifically Milton and his receivers, must play a more connected game, according to Heupel. That’s tough to force without playing time together, which makes this Pittsburgh matchup a great challenge.
“A lot of it is simple execution,” Heupel said of Milton. “It’s him having eyes in the right spot, his feet being in the right position to be accurate with the football. There were a couple of times where we hit a receiver down the field and they’ve got to come up with the catch. Some things where wide receivers aren’t reading the same way that he is. A couple things in protection where he’s scrambling. When it’s going good and it looks easy at times, it’s because all 11 are doing their job at a really high level.
“It takes one guy on the offensive side of the ball to put yourself in a position where you’re not executing at that level.”
Tennessee has this week to find some more chemistry ahead of Pitt, and then they’ll face Tennessee Tech the following week. After that, the games really begin with SEC play.