Tennessee's offense on pace for a historic season
Change is good. It’s especially exciting for Tennessee football fans.
The same group of Volunteers that lost to Pittsburgh and got hammered by Florida now have 2 convincing wins over SEC East opponents by a combined score of 107-44 as Missouri and South Carolina both took sound thumpings from the Vols.
You need only look at the Vols’ 2021 results to see they are trending in the right direction. The Vols have gone from 2-2 to 4-2 almost as fast as their offense runs plays. However, there’s much more evidence than just a win-loss record to prove that the Vols have taken a huge step forward.
For proof, take a look at this Tweet from UT’s Sports Information Department:
Touchdowns by @Vol_Football:
— Bill Martin (@Bill_Martin) October 9, 2021
That was sent out shortly following the Vols’ win against South Carolina on Saturday. Upon further inspection, the numbers continue to back up Tennessee’s offensive ascension — at a historic level.
In terms of points per game in modern school history, these are the top 5 UT offenses of all-time:
1. 42.8 – 1993
2. 37.3 – 1951
3. 36.8 – 1990
4. 36.4 – 2016
5. 36.2 – 2012
This year, the Vols are averaging 41.5 points per game. Wait, there’s more. Tennessee’s 249 points are the most through the first 6 games of a season since the 1990 team had 253. The 1993 team had 244 points through its first 6 games. That’s not bad. In fact, it’s historically good.
It’s kind of hard to argue with the numbers even if you wanted to. The Vols are easily topping the scoring that occurred in coach Butch Jones’ final season at Tennessee and coach Jeremy Pruitt’s entire tenure.
Jones’ last season at UT was the all-too-forgettable 2017 season. Jones was known as an offensive coach. He also had plenty of time to build his roster since being named Tennessee’s head coach before the 2013 season. That didn’t matter. Jones was fired during the season when he went 4-6 and 0-6 in the SEC and the offense just managed 28 touchdowns.
The Vols are 4-2 after 6 games. How does that fare with the recent past at the midway point?
Let’s start with that 2017 season. These Vols are much better off. Jones’ Vols were 3-3 after 6 games and had just gotten hammered by Georgia 41-0. Even tougher days were ahead.
The next season was better, even with a coach like Pruitt at the helm. The Vols replaced Jones, an offensive-minded coach, with Pruitt, who was highly respected because of his defensive prowess.
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The Vols were 3-3 in 2018 and had just upset Auburn. Like this season, there was cause for optimism, but it didn’t last long. The Vols finished the season 5-7.
The Vols were 2-4 in 2019 and had just beaten Mississippi State. However, a season-opening loss to Georgia State cast a pall over the entire season. The Vols finished 7-5.
The Vols were also 2-4 in 2020. The writing was on the wall. A coaching change was coming as UT continued to struggle. So, in walks Heupel.
Heupel was memorable if you watched him play at Oklahoma or coach upstart Central Florida. Otherwise, there wasn’t much sizzle to the hire. There is now. The Vols have looked like a completely different team in the past 2 weeks. As we all know, success raises expectations. Should UT fans expect to beat some of the ranked teams they’ll play on the schedule? Absolutely.
There’s no questioning that Heupel knows how to get receivers open. There’s no question that quarterback Hendon Hooker has taken to Heupel’s offense and thrived in it. Hooker is the highest-rated quarterback in the SEC, just above Ole Miss’ Matt Corral.
With 33 touchdowns already this season, the Vols are on pace to score 66. That probably won’t happen as the schedule becomes tougher, but Tennessee has the type of offense that defenders don’t want to play. The Vols can score from long distance with their passing and running attack. They The Vols are 3rd in the SEC with 474 yards per game.
At this point it would be surprising if the Vols don’t continue to improve. UT quarterback Hendon Hooker will continue to feel more comfortable as time goes on. Heupel will continue to add more to the playbook. Sure, the schedule gets much tougher and the statistics could slip.
However, there’s no arguing that the Vols have one of the best offenses in the SEC. When was the last time a Vols fan could legitimately say that?