Tennessee is 2-0. The Vols beat the brakes off Ball State and took care of business on the road against a top-20 team in Pitt. There’s a very strong chance the Vols enter Week 4 against Florida undefeated and there’s no reason to believe they can’t keep the streak going until Week 7 when Alabama comes to town.

Let’s take a deep breath.

There’s a long road ahead of this team that should be exciting to watch unfold. Tennessee’s defense looked strong against the Panthers when the offense didn’t. There were a lot of simple mistakes the Vols need to clean up, but they look capable. Flawed, as every other team is, but capable.

Here are 6 pleasant surprises that have brought Tennessee to a 2-0 start and could continue to propel the Vols moving forward.

Aaron Beasley

Jeremy Banks has struggled to start the season. Aaron Beasley has not.

Linebacker is a position group of worry, but Beasley is a bright spot right now. The senior linebacker has a team-high 22 tackles this season with one for a loss, plus 4 QB hurries. With no Juwan Mitchell for depth to start the year, Beasley has filled in well. He also has ranked within the top 3 on the defense in PFF grades against both Ball State and Pitt.

It’s surprising to see Beasley succeeding and Banks struggling, considering it was the complete opposite last year. The Vols hope Banks gets out of his slump sooner rather than later.

Getting off the field on 3rd down

Tennessee opponents are 9-32 on 3rd down attempts this season for an average of just more than 28 precent. Pitt struggled on 3rd down against the Vols last Saturday, converting 4 of 18 attempts (around 22 percent). Last season, a completely different Pitt team converted nearly 40 percent.

That trend was massive to Tennessee’s chances in the OT victory. It will continue to be massive moving forward.

Defense, not offense, is stepping up when it counts

Tennessee’s defense was the difference against Pitt on Saturday and figures to win the Vols more games this season if they keep playing like their pants are on fire. Probably 4 of the top 5 plays on the day came on the that side of the ball. For Tennessee fans, it’s the most promising aspect of a season with the first 3-0 start since 2016 potentially on the horizon.

The offense scored just 3 points in the second half and only led by 7 heading into halftime against Pitt. Trevon Flowers kept 7 points off the board early and sealed the game with a sack in overtime. Wesley Walker forced a turnover on downs. Tyler Baron’s strip sack led to the necessary 3 points before halftime.

This isn’t stuff that was happening last year, and it isn’t guaranteed to continue this year. It’s still a  massive step in the right direction. Seeing the defense get the job done has to be a sight for sore eyes among Tennessee fans.

Kamal Hadden

A lot of Vols fans were surprised to see Brandon Turnage doing work with the second- and third-team secondary against Ball State. Perhaps fans were even more surprised to see Kamal Hadden locking everything down and earning Tennessee’s highest PFF grade of the season for a defender (83.5)

Hadden has been Tennessee’s best defensive back this year by a large margin. He forced position coach Willie Martinez to give him cornerback reps ahead of Turnage in preseason camp and now Christian Charles, while Tamarion McDonald and Wesley Walker locked up the Star position. There’s still work to do, but players have been stepping up in Tennessee’s secondary.

Hadden attended Independence Community College in Kansas, the school once featured on Netflix’s Last Chance U. He changed his number from 13 to 5 this past offseason.

Apparently it’s made a difference.

Chase McGrath

Chase McGrath lined up to attempt a 51-yard field goal with 8:57 remaining in the 4th quarter against Pitt. The USC transfer had a couple things at stake: He could put his team up a comfortable 7 points heading into the final possessions of regulation and he could continue his perfect season.

The senior nailed just the third field goal longer than 50 yards in his career. Just a few drives later, Pitt was in the end zone. At a time when the offense was starting to sputter, McGrath’s field goal wound up presenting Tennessee with a chance to win in overtime.

McGrath was just 3-for-6 from longer than 40 yards last season and 12-for-16 on the season. So far this year – and there’s a long way to go – he’s 3-for-3. Tennessee needs McGrath to keep connecting when it matters.

Receivers, depth still a weapon on offense

I’m not sure anyone expected Tennessee receivers to take a step backward, but plenty wondered if the group would be as dangerous as last season after losing Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton to the NFL. But through 2 games, it seems to be business as usual.

Adding USC transfer Bru McCoy helps. Cedric Tillman still looks strong too, but there’s still room for improvement from the sixth-year senior and that’s a startling thought. Jalin Hyatt looks quicker and more attuned, too.