Before kickoff Saturday at the South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee football revealed that linebacker Jeremy Banks didn’t make the trip. Chris Fowler reported he was out for unspecified reasons during the game.
Although it was initially believed he was sick, rumors on social media began to swirl throughout the evening. By the end of the game, Vol Twitter suggested he had a fight with Hendon Hooker earlier in the week.
We tried to ignore the rumors and shot them down in our postgame reaction. However, Josh Heupel’s postgame press conference only made it worse when he said Banks “just wasn’t available for this one.”
Why, if it wasn’t anything beyond an injury or an illness, would Heupel refuse to give the reason for Banks’ lack of availability? Sure, he’s vague during the week, but that usually has a bit to do with gamesmanship.
With the game over, though, there was no need for that. Also, Heupel usually confirms at least if a player is injured or ill. He just dodges questions on whether or not they’ll be ready to go at kickoff or how long they are out.
This time, though, he wouldn’t provide any details as to why Tennessee football was without Banks. When asked about the impact Banks’ absence had, his answer was even more vague.
“I mean, we’ll go back and look at the linebacker play, but obviously, structurally, defensively, we did not play as well as we’re capable of tonight,” he said.
Keep in mind, these are all rumors. However, reports on the roots of the dispute include NIL money and Hooker calling out Banks for not doing pushups that are required when a player steps on the Power T in the locker room, which Banks reportedly did.
Heupel did say that they are anticipating and hopeful Banks will be back this week for when Tennessee football visits the Vanderbilt Commodores. That didn’t do anything to quell the rumors, though.
Then there is a very revealing quote from Heupel about learning from what happened in the game. He didn’t just speak about those who played.
“For us, and this program, this one needs to hurt on the way back,” he said. “It needs to hurt for guys that aren’t on this trip, that will be in our building tomorrow afternoon and will be there on Monday.”
Why would Heupel say it needs to hurt for players who “aren’t on this trip?” That’s a weird and oddly specific comment, one that seems directed at somebody who should have made the trip.
Honestly, all of this is drawing more attention to the rumors. Perhaps Heupel didn’t know of them because he was focused on the game, but he certainly didn’t quell them in the presser.
Being at a loss for words to a certain degree as to why the defense had its worst performance of the year only fueled the speculation. Was it possible they quit on Heupel over Banks being suspended? One quote about energy seemed to suggest that.
“Really, I think the biggest key was just bringing some more energy because a lot of times, it seemed like we were playing in slow motion out there and we didn’t really have any juice,” he said.
There could be a wide range of reasons for why the defense lacked “energy” and “juice,” but make no mistake, Heupel was questioning their effort. It’s one of the first times all year he did that.
Now, from another perspective, Heupel did say Tennessee football had a good week of practice, and he’s been honest in the past when that wasn’t the case. However, that doesn’t add up with these other quotes.
Simply put, not specifying why Banks didn’t travel with the team, subtly calling out players who didn’t make the trip and questioning the defensive intensity all are fueling the rumors. If Heupel doesn’t address this Monday, it’s going to look even worse.