Heupel, Tennessee’s Offense Delivers In Win Over Missouri

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    Photo by Tennessee Athletics.

    Tennessee fans were full of apathy when the Vols’ fired Jeremy Pruitt after three seasons and an internal investigation into recruiting violations. That apathy continued a week later when Tennessee pegged Josh Heupel as the Vols’ fifth coach since Phillip Fulmer was fired in 2008.

    But the one thing that was able to excite Tennessee fans about the then 42-year old Central Florida coach was his offense’s prowess, both at UCF and as a coordinator at Missouri.

    Through four games, Tennessee’s offense had shown glimpses of what Vol fans hoped Heupel would bring to Knoxville. Tennessee’s offense had done some good things and made some plays this year but there were still more “what ifs” than actual success.

    Heupel drew up beautiful plays to get someone open down the field but the Vols’ offense limited themselves with overthrows and missed opportunities in September.

    Saturday in Columbia, Missouri, Heupel and Tennessee’s offense gave Vol fans a reason to be excited, scoring 62 points and punting just once in the lopsided win.

    Earlier this week Heupel called the rushing game “the secret sauce” in his offense. There was nothing secretive about what Tennessee did on the ground against a porous Missouri defense.

    The Vols totaled 452 rushing yards, averaging over seven yards a carry.

    “Really it was a different defensive structure early in the football game,” Heupel said postgame. “I thought our kids handled it and communicated and got on the right guys in their doubles went to the right guys which sounds easy but is really hard to do. I thought they handled that well in the early part of the football game. We were cleaner inside and on the edges. When you do that you give your running backs more space. I thought early in the football game, Jabari and Tiyon did a great job of pressing the line of scrimmage and understanding the scheme and how it was being blocked and where to press it.”

    Jabari Small exited the game with an injury in the first half, leading to Tiyon Evans getting the bulkload of Tennessee’s first half carries.

    The junior college transfer continued his impressive season, tallying 156 yards on 15 carries including a 92-yard touchdown run that helped break the game open in the first quarter.

    Evans— who said Tennessee’s offense would “have some fun” against Missouri— wasn’t interested in talking about his performance, postgame, but praised a banged up offensive line that dominated the Tigers’ front.

    “My offensive line has been playing at a high level all night,” Evans said postgame. “All of that is praise to them. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have a night how we had tonight.”

    Evans wasn’t fast to compliment himself but Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was willing to give praise for his running back after his three touchdown game.

    “Tiyon is a bad man,” Hooker said. “He’s just amazing to watch.”

    Hooker earned plenty of praise himself in the win. The Virginia Tech transfer completed 15-of-19 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns. Hooker— who continues to impress as a runner— tallied 74 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

    The senior did everything Tennessee asked of him in the win, being on time and consistent in the underneath passing game and completing three passes down the field, including touchdowns to JaVonta Payton and Cedric Tillman.

    “I thought as much as anything just great poise and understanding and command of what we’re doing,” Heupel said of Hooker. “I thought in the pass game he did a great job and was accurate and decisive all day long. He used his feet opportunistically and was a huge part of us getting going early in the football game.”

    The road win at Missouri was Hooker’s third start of the season and fourth game seeing serious action. The transfer continues to get more comfortable in Tennessee’s offense. 

    After turning it over two times in three quarters against Pitt, Hooker has turned it over just once since and hasn’t turned it over in two SEC games.

    “He seems very comfortable,” Tennessee safety Jaylen McCollough said of Hooker. “He plays hard. Practices hard throughout the week. He’s playing some good ball right now.”

    Hooker involved a plethora of pass catchers, but Velus Jones Jr. had his best game of the 2021 season. The redshirt-senior caught seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.

    In total, Tennessee tallied 677 yards of offense, 34 first downs and averaged 8.8 yards per play. That’s the offense Tennessee fans hoped Heupel would bring with him to Tennessee. 

    While the Vols certainly aren’t going to score 62 points– the Vols’ most in a game since scoring 63 against Mizzou in 2016— often, it showed Tennessee fans what Heupel is capable of.

    It just so happened to provide a critical win for Tennessee in the process.

    Ryan Schumpert is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. He just completed a three-year stint with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent last three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Did we leave out the part about Ryan interning for the Smokies? Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three of the reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.