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What to make of the 2023 Tennessee football season

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The 2023 regular season is now in the books. There are mixed reviews.

It seems like some Tennessee fans view the 8-4 campaign as a disappointment while others feel it turned out about how they expected it would. My view is from a numbers stand point; the wins and losses are about what I expected. Actually I felt the Vols could hit 9 wins in the regular season and hopefully hit a 10 win season with a successful bowl game. The game I seem to always miss is the Vols’ trip to the Swamp every couple of years. No matter how bad the Florida is, it’s apparent they always manage to defeat the Vols in Gainesville. Otherwise, the wins and losses across the Tennessee schedule turned out to be what I expected.

What I wasn’t expecting and what is a big disappointment with the 2023 results is how the Vols lost the four games this season.  They essentially seemed to fold in all four losses either with horrendous starts or with fades in the second half.

Two of the teams, Alabama and Georgia, have more talented rosters at this time. I believe Heupel has the ability to close the gap with both of those programs going forward and hopefully we will see evidence of that with the 2024 signing class. I don’t believe Missouri and Florida had better rosters than the Vols and possibly did not have as much talent as Tennessee, but still managed dominating wins against the Vols.  The Missouri game particularly reminded me of the 2022 South Carolina game where Tennessee just didn’t appear to compete. That is troubling to have a game of that nature in back-to-back seasons in November. 

By all measurements, 2023 was one of the weakest offensive production teams in Tennessee coach Josh Heupel’s head coaching career.  The running game could either be outstanding or essentially non-existent.  The passing game stuttered in many of the 2023 games.  The Vols mostly gave up on the middle third of the field, suffered through missed open receivers and inaccurate throws. Then, there were the occasional untimely dropped passes that would have kept the chains moving and far too many drive-killing penalties.  While the 2023 offense was a disappointment, the defense did manage to step up compared to Heupel’s first two seasons in Knoxville.  I expect both units will be solid this fall and we will see improvement on both sides of the ball.

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So, my view of the 2023 regular season is the Vols were inconsistent in most games which resulted in the team not being able to stay competitive for sixty minutes in all 12 games.  The good news is we are now back to the point that an 8-4 season is considered a disappointment by many Vol fans.  That’s a good thing and a credit to Heupel and the Tennessee coaching staff. 

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