How do you criticize scoring 40 points against a top 25 SEC team on the road and having your quarterback move up in the Heisman Trophy race? That’s what Tennessee football did against the LSU Tigers Saturday.
The Vols beat LSU 40-13 in Death Valley. Hendon Hooker had 295 total yards and two touchdowns. He still has no interceptions on the year.
Thanks to the offensive genius that Josh Heupel is, UT is now 5-0 and in the top 10. Hooker is a Heisman candidate. Still, tight end Jacob Warren says the offense hasn’t yet reached its potential.
“There’s points in time where it’s really good, it’s really solid, like we’re pushing the tempo, we’re catching the ball well, you know, Hendon (Hooker) is making the right reads,” Warren said. “The offensive line is key to into all the protections, and then there’s just, maybe, one drive, or one little little span of drives that seem like, where, it’s not like we just couldn’t get anything going, we couldn’t we couldn’t finish when we needed to finish.”
Those instances happened on Saturday. Although Tennessee football won 40-13, the Vols did have to settle for five field goals. That’s where the 40 points came. They missed one and made four.
Their first two scores, a touchdown and a field goal, were off special teams. Dee Williams had a long punt return to set up the field goal.
Will Brooks recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff to set up the first touchdown. Warren expressed sympathy for LSU to deal with something like that but gave credit to the kickoff team.
“The wind kind of catches that ball and just kind of hangs it up in the air for too long, and the kid ends up muffing it, and shout out Will Brooks,” he said. “He’s one of my good friends and made a play on the ball, did a good job keeping his legs and his knees in bounds and recovered it, and that’s the most exciting thing.”
Still, the offense let some opportunities slip away. They let a brilliant fourth down shovel pass call by Josh Heupel go to waste, as they had to punt on that same drive.
Obviously, there was the missed field goal. On their first field goal, they failed to convert on a 3rd and 2. Warren noted that the Vols still need to work on these things.
“It’s just a matter of of understanding when those moments come up, when it’s really big, when we really need to put the foot on the gas and being able to go do it,” he said. “I think we’re close.”
To be fair, perspective matters. Tennessee football gained over 500 yards of offense, hit 40 points, scored four touchdowns and gained over 250 yards on the ground.
This isn’t an effort issue either. Josh Heupel touted how good some of the practices were early in the week, and Warren noted that the offense continues to be locked in by the time the ball kicks off Saturday.
“Most of the guys are understanding,” he said. “The offensive line is understanding the different looks that we might be getting, and it’s gotten to the point where, you know, maybe I made a mistake on that on the Monday practice or the Tuesday practice, but Wednesday, it truly seems like it’s getting pretty solidified in my brain.”
Despite the lack of perfection in the offense, Tennessee football has benefitted from a level of certainty with experience in Josh Heupel’s system. That faith wasn’t there before.
On the other side, meanwhile, LSU is playing under a first-year head coach in Brian Kelly. However, Warren rejected that there’s any level of uncertainty due to that.
“They’re coming out, and they’re competing, and you’re going to get that from any team you play in this league,” he said. “They’re going to come out, and they’re SEC Division I starting football players, too. Like there are really good players and pretty much every team you play.”