We’ve been hearing about the tempo on offense for Tennessee football all season long. In their 52-49 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide, that seemed to have a huge advantage.
However, those things are a philosophy on both sides of of the ball. That was clear from offensive coordinator Alex Golesh and defensive coordinator Tim Banks as they spoke to the media Tuesday.
“I think it just starts with our philosophy,” Banks said. “We want to play fast, we want to be aggressive, we obviously want to be physical, and it just so happens that our offense plays with that same type of mentality.”
Banks said the culture of a frenetic pace is just as much part of the defensive approach as the offensive approach. Sure, they can’t do no-huddle, but they can keep the offense on its heels.
Golesh discussed the partnership that it creates on both sides of the ball. He said aggression is part of everything they do, on and off the field.
“It’s the philosophy as a program from Coach Heupel that we are going to be aggressive on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We are aggressive on special teams. I think it’s just what we do. The whole program is that way. We’re building towards that every week.”
That type of aggression can obviously impact an opponent, and it seemed to slow down Alabama’s pass rush. There’s a reason they only had one sack.
Notably, though, Golesh said within the game he’s still focused on the next play and the next drive, not the impact the tempo is having on the opponent as a whole. However, he knows the aggression is there all the time.
“For us, we know going in, ‘here is where we are going to go,'” he said. “As long as it looks like what we thought it would look like, the kids know how we are rolling and what we are doing. Really proud of the way that they started. Really proud of the start our group got. Obviously, the key when you get up like that is now, you have to continue to keep your foot on the gas.”
Another part of the philosophy is the next-man-up mentality. The Vols managed to win their third straight game without Cedric Tillman, and all of the teams they beat were ranked at the time.
Hendon Hooker still managed to throw five touchdown passes Saturday without Tillman. All were to Jalin Hyatt, but Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton stepped up as well.
That philosophy exists on defense too. Tennessee football has lost its top cornerback Warren Burrell for the year. Strong safety Jaylen McCollough missed Saturday’s game too, as did Kamal Hadden, but the Vols kept fighting.
“I think every coach in the country kind of talks about it,” Banks said of the next-man-up mentality. “We definitely try to live by that mantra. We also talk about, you get what you earn, and a lot of those guys who got an opportunity in the secondary to play have been working really hard throughout the camp and obviously the season, and it just so happened that this was the game that those guys had to play a lion’s share of the reps.”
Among those players who got chances were Christian Charles and Brandon Turnage. However, Charles got hurt in the game as well.
By the end, William Wright was in there. The Vols had to go extremely deep in the secondary, and that is already one of their weaker positions.
“I’m extremely proud, because I know how hard those guys work,” Banks said. “The fact that they went in there and didn’t blink is a testimony to the culture that we have in place right now in terms of guys just being ready when their name is called, and I thought that came to fruition obviously Saturday.”
Of course, Bryce Young did throw for over 450 yards, but he was making Heisman play after Heisman play. Many times, there was nothing Tennessee football’s secondary could have done.
Is this a concern going forward? Probably, but the defensive backs did just enough to get crucial stops when needed over the weekend.