Tennessee ended up surviving on the road against Pittsburgh last Saturday, picking up a huge top 20 win over a team that should challenge for the ACC crown once again. The victory moved the Volunteers all the way up to 15th in the AP Poll, setting the stage for a massive next few weekends.
Interestingly enough, it was the defense that carried Tennessee to that win on Saturday. At the podium on Tuesday, offensive coordinator Alex Golesh fielded questions and offered a few explanations.
Here are the highlights.
On the left tackle battle, where Gerald Mincey has pretty clearly pulled ahead after playing the entire game against Pittsburgh.
“Pleasant surprise a little bit, probably,” Golesh said of Mincey. “Just because you didn’t really know. You knew he was just learning through spring. He was learning through fall camp. Really good in the pass pro part. He’s naturally gifted. He’s super athletic. He’s really long. And I think he’s really learned better than you could ever ask a first-year guy to do so. But really pleasantly surprised, and honestly needed it to happen in terms of him or JJ (Crawford), or both, being able to hold that down over there. So really, really proud of him. They’re going to keep competing just like at every other spot.”
My take: The -OR- designation is a staff’s way of keeping things under wraps, or perhaps keeping a player motivated to keep pushing in practice. But when the rubber meets the road, you quickly figure out who the staff trusts the most. In this case at left tackle, it’s Gerald Mincey. Jeremiah Crawford will get plenty of run against Akron, but it’s clear he’s the third tackle for now.
On playing so few receivers against Pittsburgh.
“You’re going to play the guys at the current moment, situationally, that give you the best opportunity to win. That’s our job. That game was so unique in how we knew we would get defended. You knew you were going to have to go win the game on the outside. There wasn’t going to be a whole lot in there in terms of running the football down to down. For eight years, people have not been able to line up and run the football on them. So for us, and our best chance to win, (it) was going to be on the outside in a lot of ways.”
My take: Similar to the take above, we saw Tennessee have clear top three at receiver against Pittsburgh. The top three itself is not surprising after what we saw against Ball State, but the fact that we didn’t see any rotation was. The staff has said that they want to play more receivers than last year, but that didn’t happen in a close game last week. We’ll see everybody against Akron, but a heavy dosage of the top three once again vs. Florida.
On Jaylen Wright’s ball security issues
“Pointing out when there could be potentially be ball-security issues and continue to harp on it. But I’m sure it probably didn’t help that he was out most of fall camp. But I believe in Jaylen. We believe in Jaylen. He was running his tail off at that point. Again, it can’t happen. It does happen. It’s not acceptable. We’ve got to continue to coach it.”
My take: For whatever reason, Wright has found more daylight early on than Jabari Small has. It’s clear that he’s got more burst to him, but fumbling the football is the quickest way to find the bench. Jabari is steady-eddy, while Wright perhaps is still knocking off some rust. I’m interested to see the splits in carries going forward.
On Tennessee’s slow start offensively vs. Pittsburgh
“The only thing going through my head is the next drive. And how do we get the next drive started. When we get a drive going, and pick up the first first down, we’re generally in a good spot. Those two drives, along with a handful in the third quarter, we’re all execution. In terms of just not executing. They weren’t missed assignments. They weren’t guys running free and hitting the quarterback. It wasn’t anything catastrophic. It was simply execution.”
My take: It seemed like the staff accepted the fact that not much was going to get done on the ground, at least up the gut. Pittsburgh’s front gave Tennessee some real issues all day long, and those were evident from the jump. If they weren’t sacking Hendon Hooker, they were getting him off his base and not letting him get comfortable. The Volunteers eventually countered with some deep one-on-one throws, along with some easy, short tosses to Jalin Hyatt. But you get the sense that the gameplan had to adjust a bit after the first quarter.
On the lack of first down production
“When your in second-and-long, that’s the biggest thing you talk about going into the game, you don’t want to be in second-and-long, forcing yourself to be in third-and-long. Those guys on third and long are dangerous. It was that way a year ago. You didn’t want to be stuck in third-and-long. So you were just trying to find a way to get into third-and-manageable when you couldn’t get anything on first down. Once we got that going, the third, the fourth drive and really the fourth, fifth and sixth drive where we scored touchdowns on all three, it was picked up the first first down and got going. So it was (handcuffing the play-calling).”
My take: Tennessee is all about rhythm, and that makes first down an obviously critical starting point. A positive play of even minimal yards gets the momentum and pace cranking, which is where Josh Heupel is at his best. It keeps the defense guessing and forces them to move on to the next play quickly. That didn’t happen early on against Pitt, and you saw how ugly it looked.