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Tennessee Football: Look to see if Josh Heupel slows down the offense vs. Virginia

Nobody will ever accuse Tennessee Football of being a ball control offense with Josh Heupel at the helm. However, that doesn’t mean that he won’t tweak schemes from year to year depending on his personnel.

With a new quarterback in Joe Milton III, a new slate of receivers and a different look on the offensive line, that’s certainly possible Saturday. A new offensive coordinator in Joey Halzle, who replaces Alex Golesh, could also affect that.

All of this brings one major question: Will Tennessee Football focus more on execution and less on tempo this year? That will show when they face the Virginia Cavaliers Saturday. However, for Heupel, execution matters regardless.

“On the offense side of the ball, at the end of the day, execution is paramount,” he said. “Doesn’t matter how (fast) if you’re not executing, but I think in openers, all three phases of the game, you have a game plan.”

Milton, Halzle and the new receivers gave Vol fans a preview of what they may look like in the Orange Bowl win over the Clemson Tigers last year. UT won that game 31-14, generating a new wave of confidence in Hendon Hooker’s replacement.

What stood out was while Milton looked much better than he did when he first started in 2021, the flow of the game was different. Although it wasn’t extreme, the Vols utilized more ball control in that matchup. Heupel acknowledged personnel will change things.

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“You have to do a really good job of adjusting and play your core principles in all three phases.” he said. “Players (have) got to be able to communicate, adjust. In-game adjustments are paramount in those too. So as you go to the sidelines, absolutely critical, but our staff and players do a great job.”

After averaging barely over 20 seconds per play last year, Tennessee Football averaged nearly 21.5 seconds per play against Clemson. The Vols also ran it 57.5 percent of the time instead of 55 percent of the time. Passing yards per attempt went down from 9.7 per game on the year to just 9.

Again, these changes are minimal, but they reflect a new scheme overall. Tennessee Football worked the middle of the field more with Milton and ran some clock. Perhaps the coaches figured out a better way to use him. However, Heupel touted the growth and maturity of Milton specifically since he first lost his starting job.

“He’s the guy that did it the right way,” Heupel said. “When it didn’t go his way early on, looked at himself, here’s how I need to improve to get better and trusted his coaches, the program. I believe in the guys around him too, inside of the locker room.”

Don’t worry, the big plays will still be there, even against UVA. Squirrel White replaces Jalin Hyatt in the slot, and Dont’e Thornton will help out there. Given White’s speed, there’s no way UT won’t take plenty of deep shots.

Meanwhile, Ramel Keyton and Bru McCoy return after playing on the outside for most of last year anyway with Cedric Tillman banged up. Keyton, McCoy and White all went for over 400 yards last year, and Thornton went for over 350 with the Oregon Ducks.

“We’ve had a lot of guys that have played really good football for us,” Heupel said. “Ramel played really the last eight, nine weeks of the season for us on the right side. Bru played at a really high level. Squirrel White when given the opportunity last year¬†played extremely well. Dont’e continued to come on.”

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