It’s hard to say that the first year at Tennessee for head coach Josh Heupel wasn’t successful. Even with the five regular-season losses and the Music City Bowl loss, Heupel still reinvigorated a Tennessee program that was on life-support following the tenure of Jeremy Pruitt. In fact, Heupel was given a grade of an A- in his first year from both ESPN and CBS Sports.
However, it isn’t just the analysts or the fans that have an eye on Heupel’s success in Knoxville. Instead, it is also other coaches from around the country.
While talking with anonymous coaches around the SEC, The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman did some digging into the perspective of Tennessee looking from the outside in. The following quote is from one of the conversations Feldman had with a coach from the conference.
“Impressed with what Tennessee is doing,” one SEC coach said according to a tweet from Feldman on Friday. “They were sh*t before and they got so much better. They go fast as hell on offense. (Hendon) Hooker has a really live arm and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. They’re dangerous now. What that staff has done with that offense is something.”
Breaking down what the SEC coach said to Feldman, each part of his statement does hold a significant amount of truth.
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When discussing the turnaround in Heupel’s first year, the results are almost jaw-dropping. After Tennessee’s program-low 30 percent win percentage in 2020, Heupel had a tough task ahead of him. Heupel was dealing with a team that didn’t have any significant traces of unity and a fanbase that was struggling to find hope on the horizon, all while the SEC East was continuing to gain steam. However, in his first season, Heupel was able to correct the course of the program and deliver a 7-5 (7-6 with the bowl loss) season in his inaugural season. The Vols had four more wins than they did the year before and made it to a bowl game against one of the Big 10’s elite teams.
Tennessee’s speed was something that wasn’t just impressive during the season, no, it was consistent for 13 games. During the beginning of the season, many Tennessee fans were reacting to the Vols’ mark of the fastest offense in college football. However, Tennessee just kept sticking around the Top 3 through each week of the season. By the end, Tennessee was back on top, finishing the season as the fastest team in college football on offense.
The Vols quarterback, Hendon Hooker, has never really been a big turnover guy in his whole career. Hooker threw five interceptions during his last season at Virginia Tech and two the season before. However, those are with about 150 pass attempts, give or take. While he was at Tennessee last season, Hooker was even more impressive with his security of the ball, only throwing three interceptions in over 300 pass attempts. With Hooker’s ability to throw the deep ball, make smart decisions, keep the football protected, and deliver an elusive run game, Hooker has proven to be one of the SEC’s more dynamic quarterbacks.
With many returning pieces from the 2021 season, Tennessee and Josh Heupel are poised for even more success in year two.
"Impressed with what Tennessee is doing. They were sh*t before and they got so much better. They go fast as hell on offense. (Hendon) Hooker has a really live arm and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. They’re dangerous now. What that staff has done with that offense is something."
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) January 7, 2022