Josh Heupel probably worried Tennessee fans at the Big Orange Caravan event on Wednesday. At least for a second.

During the final leg of the 2023 Big Orange Caravan in Kingsport, Heupel told fans in attendance to expect “elite” defense from the Volunteers going forward. Tennessee ranked 36th nationally last season in scoring defense and 48th in yards per play allowed. With the No. 1 scoring offense in college football, that defensive output was enough to fuel an 11-2 campaign.

To take the next step, though, improvement is needed.

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Sports betting in Tennessee officially launched on November 1, 2020, and many of the largest sportsbooks are live and operating in the volunteer state. Tennessee is only one of a handful of SEC football states with legalized sports betting.

“We’re not going to play good defense,” Heupel said Wednesday, per Adam Sparks of the Knoxville News Sentinel. “We’re going to play elite defense at Tennessee.”

With Heupel’s offense, elite defense is going to be quite the task. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks was aggressive in his approach, hoping to create splash plays to put the offense on the field. Pressure came. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it backfired. The Vols were all over the board, giving up 60 to South Carolina and 49 to Alabama while holding Kentucky to 6 and blanking Vanderbilt — the first shutout of an SEC foe since 2003.

The Vols need to replace last year’s leading sack-getter in Byron Young, but they do return star linebacker Aaron Beasley and a potential breakout player on the edge in Tyler Baron.