Should Tennessee football feel elation or concern after hot start? – Knoxville News Sentinel

  • September 28, 2022

Tennessee is 4-0 for the first time since the 2016 season, and the Vols have a realistic path to a New Year’s Six bowl following a 38-33 win against Florida on Saturday.
The Vols are off this week before diving back into SEC play at LSU (3-1) on Oct. 8 (noon ET, ESPN).
From a macro level, it all looks good – really good – especially considering where this program was just a year and a half ago. On a micro level, there are nits to pick, and some Vols fans felt concerned about the chinks in the armor that became apparent against Florida.
On this edition of “The Volunteer State,” Blake Toppmeyer of the USA TODAY Network and the News Sentinel’s Adam Sparks and John Adams reassess Tennessee’s victory against Florida and what it means for the path ahead.
Hendon Hooker played like a quarterback worth of Heisman Trophy conversation, and he masks deficiencies elsewhere. As Sparks puts it, as long is Hooker is upright and healthy, the Vols are going to score a lot of points, and that makes them a dangerous team.
Adams’ assessment of Tennessee continues to improve. He was bullish on the Vols in the preseason, predicting a 9-3 record, but now he’s upping that to 10-2. How many coaches from Tennessee’s past would have kept the foot on the accelerator like Josh Heupel did during the Vols’ 99-yard go-ahead touchdown drive before halftime?
TOPPMEYER: Tennessee football finds catharsis, because Florida doesn’t faze Hendon Hooker’s Vols
ADAMS:Tennessee Vols are scary on offense – and defense
SPARKS:What’s wrong with Tennessee football’s defense? Vols fans pepper Tim Banks with questions
Toppmeyer agrees with all of that, but, on the flipside, a previously pedestrian Florida offense roasted the Vols’ defense for 594 yards. Tennessee’s secondary offered a new meaning to the word “coverage.”
The Hooker-led offense should be enough to fuel the Vols to at least nine victories. Crave more than that, though, and the defense better contribute more than it did Saturday.
What a compliment it is to Heupel, though, that 18 months into his tenure, we’re debating how Tennessee can address its deficiencies so that it can win 10 or more games.
In January 2021, this program looked headed for the abyss.
Insert Heupel and Hooker, and Tennessee sprinted to becoming a top-10 team.
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Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Adam Sparks is the Tennessee football beat writer for the Knoxville News Sentinel. John Adams is the News Sentinel’s senior columnist. If you enjoy their coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Also, you can subscribe to The Volunteer State podcast for free so you won’t miss an episode. Toppmeyer and Adams also host another weekly podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered. Or, check out their SEC Unfiltered newsletter.