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VOL. 45 | NO. 17 | Friday, April 23, 2021

‘I think it’s going to be electric this year’

Orange-White gives fans first look at Vols’ new, fast-paced offense

By Rhiannon Potkey

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Spectators at this year’s Orange & White Game are advised not to glance down at their phones for even a second.

They may miss a few plays.

Josh Heupel and the new Tennessee coaching staff will put their high-tempo offense on display on April 24th at Neyland Stadium.

Kickoff will be at 4 p.m. ET (live broadcast SEC Network+ and Vol Radio Network) with free admission. Gates open at 2:30 p.m. and face coverings will be required at entry and throughout the stadium.

After years of middling progression offensively under the old regime, the Vols are hoping for a positive jolt to the system that lights up the scoreboard and wears down defenses.

”We use the code word attack,” Heupel says. “That’s a big part of who we are inside the building.”

Sophomore quarterback Harrison Bailey is splitting reps this spring with Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker and Brian Maurer.

-- Photo Courtesy Of Ut Athletics

Heupel was hired in late January to replace Jeremy Pruitt, who was fired with cause by the school after initiating an investigation into allegations of illegal recruiting practices.

Heupel spent the last three seasons as the head coach at UCF. The Knights were the only team in the country to rank among the top five in the FBS in total offense in each of the last three years.

UCF, Alabama and Clemson were the only teams in the nation to average at least 42.2 points per game in each of the last three seasons. The Knights finished second nationally in total offense last season at 568.1 yards per game. In stark contrast, Tennessee was next to last in total offense last year in the SEC.

Solon Page III, a redshirt senior linebacker from Atlanta, runs a drill during spring practice.

-- Photo Courtesy Of Ut Athletics

“I’m excited for the new offense,” Vols wide receiver Cedric Tillman says. “I think it’s going to be electric this year.”

Tennessee’s biggest order of business on offense is finding a starting quarterback to run the operation swiftly. Former starter Jared Guarantano transferred to Washington State to use his final year of eligibility.

Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker, Brian Maurer and Harrison Bailey have been splitting reps in practice. True freshman quarterback Kaidon Salter has been indefinitely suspended from the team stemming from an off-field incident.

And this week, it was widely reported that Joe Milton, who started five games for Michigan in 2020, is transferring to Tennessee.

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner returns to UT after serving as Auburn associate head coach last season.

-- Photos Courtesy Of Ut Athletics

“I think scrimmage situations are awesome for an ability to see how they handle the game, game management,” Heupel says of the quarterback contenders. “Do they understand situational football? Third down situations, are they in four-down territory? Their energy in between plays to be able to get the bigs moving after a big play and allow us to play with tempo and their ability to recognize the mechanics of it.

“See if they know it, communicate it and then get their eyes on the second third level and be able to make decisions.”

The up-tempo style doesn’t just impact the offensive players. UT’s defenders have needed to adjust and be prepared to keep up with the rapid rate of plays.

“It’s really indescribable,” UT defensive back Jaylen McCollough says. “Those guys are legit. Hiking the ball, running and playing in about like three seconds – they are back on the ball ready to go.”

Heupel says he has been pleased with how quickly the players have adapted to the new staff and style of play. Most new coaches try to change the culture within a program, and Heupel is no different.

He says the Vols are “learning how to have winning habits” and “getting rid of a bunch of habits that aren’t going to help us win.”

“The challenge and race against themselves to become and as fast as they can, these guys have accepted that in a really positive way,” Heupel adds. “They are starting to demand it from the guy next to them inside of the locker room. That accountability has got to come from within. Our group is starting to learn that and take ownership in it.”

Given how much losing has taken place in Knoxville the last few seasons, fans will welcome any change. But the Vols are betting that a fast-paced offense will be even more attractive to crowds, players and potential recruits.

The Orange & White Game will provide a glimpse into what Heupel says he believes can be a winning formula on Rocky Top.

“What we’re doing offensively, the buy-in has been fantastic,” Heupel adds. “Guys want to learn how to play the way that we are going to play.”

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