And a Super Bowl-winning victory Monday at that. As such, it’s time to grab an orange and white pickaxe and dig out the Tennessee Volunteer-related thought nuggets stuck throughout my brain.
1) What an environment at Neyland. That looked and sounded wild, so credit to the fans for being an X-factor. And to the smart aleck who ribbed me last week for mentioning the players’ intensity level for this game as a key factor, well, guess what? It mattered greatly. The Vols obviously fed off the environment and showed twice as much fight as they have the rest of this year. It looked and felt very much like watching a 2022 Tennessee game for the first time this year. So more of that, please.
2) Bru McCoy’s injury is so heartbreaking. I can’t think of many players who were higher effort players on a down-to-down basis than McCoy. You called a pass his way, he’d much more often than not make the play. You’d ask him to block, he’d do it, and he’d do it very well. Just ask McCallan Castles, who raved to the media about this block from McCoy on his touchdown against Austin Peay.
Wake up and be happy that the Vols are 2-0!— @TorresOnTennessee (@TorresontheVols) September 10, 2023
Watch Bru McCoy pave the way for McCallan Castles all the way down the sideline… pic.twitter.com/SmyR4jfNHF
I really hope McCoy can recover 100% ASAP. He has a year of eligibility remaining, so hopefully he can return for the Vols next fall. No matter what he ends up doing next year, whether it’s in Knoxville or the professional ranks, I hope he’s healthy doing it.
3) With that being said, who’s going to fill those shoes in the passing game? Squirrel White had very nice game with 9 catches for 104 yards. He did it in the long and short passing games, hauling in the 50-yard bomb to help give the Vols the lead for good in the first half and taking several short passes and darting free for solid gains after the catch. Josh Heupel did a nice job of finding a way to get the ball in his hands with some easier throws from Joe Milton, and it worked. Again, more of that, please.
Josh Heupel mentioned Kaleb Webb, Chas Nimrod, and Dont’e Thornton when discussing replacements, so we’ll see if one of those can step in and make some plays on the outside.
4) Aside from Squirrel, I was very happy to see Jacob Warren get more involved on Saturday night. The Vols’ tight end had a big touchdown on third-and-goal from the five-yard line. Warren ran an out and up route and caught the ball over the South Carolina defender for a 31-10 lead. Warren is a big target and should be a primary option in the red zone for Joe Milton moving forward.
5) James Pearce, Jr. was a force off the edge and made a huge impact. The Vols battered the Gamecocks’ offensive line, racking up six sacks, and it was Pearce leading the way with two of them. What a huge game for the sophomore...and really for all of the pass rush on the evening. 6 total sacks - with 6 players getting credit for them - and constant pressure.
6) The running game was popping. In related news, welcome back, Cooper Mays. And Jaylen Wright ran like Dylan Sampson was trying to steal his playing time (which.....well, of course, he has been, naturally). 16 carries, 123 yards (7.7 ypc) and a touchdown for #0. All kidding aside, the ground game looked great, which is good since UT will have to lean on that more this year than in 2022.
7) Loved the offensive balance. 238 rushing yards on 40 rushes, 239 passing yards on 32 attempts. Makes a team very tough to defend.
8) Don’t boo players during the pregame announcements like what happened with Kamal Hadden. Come on. For those who did, be better than that. And as such, it’s ironic that he had the pick-six to push the Vols to a comfy lead before the half.
9) I don’t know why Spencer Rattler felt the need to be snarky like he did about this being the Vols’ Super Bowl. Yes, this game was important after last year’s debacle and after losing the SEC opener to Florida. But when you’re 29-11-2 all time in the series, it’s just not quite that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. Besides, I believe this was found all around Columbia last year. Pot, meet kettle.
10) Tennessee - Texas A&M will be at 3:30 pm ET on CBS. That’s the more-eyeballs-on-the-screen game of the week, so I will take that. Just need to replicate the energy and execution next Saturday - and get ready for a pretty decent QB in Max Johnson, who took over for the injured Conner Weigman and led the Aggies to a 34-22 win over Arkansas on Saturday.
11) For now, enjoy the bye week, UT fans.