After a poor performance against Florida last week, this was a nice bounce back win for Tennessee. Maybe not against the most formidable opponent, but they won a game like this in a fashion in which a lot of fans expected they would, or at least hoped they would. And that should count for something. Heupel was better, ground game was very solid, and it was nice to see Joe Milton flex his athleticism - something I’d really like to see more of moving forward. Here are five key takeaways from Tennessee’s win over the UTSA Roadrunners.
9.2 yards and a cloud of dust.
From the literal first play from scrimmage, Tennessee’s run game was clicking. It’s not often that through four weeks a quarterback has a team’s longest run of the season, but that is now the case after Joe Milton’s 81-yard touchdown. That’s not to take away from anything the running backs did yesterday, which was impressive in its own right. Dylan Sampson had a another great performance and Jabari Small was a nice compliment in the run game, averaging over 6 yards per carry. This has been said many times before, but Tennessee is a run-first team. If they can get things going early in the ground game, their chances of success go way, way up. And yesterday was simply the latest example of that.
Defense is better when players actually tackle. Who knew?
Maybe stating the obvious here but after the defensive “effort” against Florida, it was encouraging to see how much better the defense played yesterday. Was the opponent significantly worse? Absolutely. But something should be said about holding a team to just 98 yards on it’s first 39 plays from scrimmage. Pass rush was solid, a good amount of tackles for a loss. Hopefully they can build on this performance as conference play officially ramps up.
Josh Heupel had a good day.
Josh Heupel rightfully had to answer some questions this entire week. His play calling has been suspect, his use of timeouts has been horrific, and Tennessee has been struggling to find productive drives early in games all year. That was not the case yesterday. This Tennessee offense, for the first time, looked like the offense Tennessee fans expected it to see all year. I thought Heupel did an outstanding job establishing the run early, and keeping momentum throughout the first half. For the so far this season, this game was well in-hand by the end of the first quarter, and was put to bed by halftime.
Bru McCoy deserves more touches.
One negative from this game? Tennessee’s receiving core continues to look lackluster. I know there were some big plays, specifically the 48-yard touchdown to Ramel Keyton, but there’s not much about this group that impresses me. Except for Bru McCoy. The dude is a physical specimen that, in my opinion, gets separation better than any other receiver on this team, has the best hands, and consistently earns his keep by how good of a blocker he is. I’d love to see him end games with more than 3 catches for 30 yards moving forward.
The real test officially starts on Saturday.
Beating up on UTSA was nice, and hopefully serves as a turning point for this team’s confidence and offensive consistency. Cooper Mays should be back (finally) and Tennessee has a chance to get their first conference win against Spencer Rattler and the South Carolina Gamecocks. Through four weeks, this team still has some question marks, and up until yesterday, somewhat of an identity crisis. I think I speak for all Tennessee fans when I say this upcoming night game gives Tennessee a chance to put those first three weeks in the rearview mirror and presents opportunity to establish themselves in conference play.