The fast-paced, high-scoring offense Josh Heupel planned to bring to Tennessee was on full display Saturday afternoon. For the first time during Heupel’s tenure, the Vols scored early and often and seldom slowed down in their 62-24 rout of Missouri at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo., never punting in their most impressive offensive performance so far this season.
But the first-year coach believes Saturday might be just the beginning for Tennessee’s offense. The Vols piled up 677 yards of total offense, including 452 rushing yards, and scored touchdowns on their first six possessions against the Tigers. But Heupel said they still can do more.
“Obviously, some really, really positive things today — the ability to run the football, the ability to stretch the field vertically, to be accurate and consistent, and to be good on the few third downs that we had,” Heupel said. “But, really — I said this to the players, too — this is the tip of the iceberg. We’re just scratching the surface of what we are capable of. There’s a whole lot more for us in our growth.
“Enjoy this one, because they’re hard to come by. But, no different than the previous weeks, let’s come back on Monday and let’s get better. If our kids continue to buy into that process and that mentality, we’re going to continue to grow through this season.”
Tennessee raced out to a 28-3 lead before the end of the first quarter and took a 45-10 lead into halftime, fully exploiting a Missouri defense that entered Saturday’s game ranked 129th nationally out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Vols ran for 275 yards in the first half alone, led by junior running back Tiyon Evans’ 123 yards and three touchdowns on seven carries.
They scored their 28 first-quarter points on just 14 offensive plays. They finished the period with 217 yards of total offense, including a 92-yard touchdown run by Evans.
“I wouldn’t say it was easy,” said Evans, who finished the game with 156 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 15 attempts. “We just (were) locked in and on the same page. I wouldn’t say it was easy. Nothing’s ever easy. But I’d say we were just more locked in than we ever (were) before.”
Tennessee senior quarterback Hendon Hooker, a Virginia Tech transfer, made his third consecutive start and had his best performance to date with the Vols. He finished 15-of-19 passing for 225 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while also rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
Even if it wasn’t a flawless performance, it was an example of how Tennessee’s offense could look under Heupel when it’s firing on all cylinders.
“Well, really, I’d say this is the first time we’ve really played together the whole four quarters as a team,” Evans said. “If we can continue to do that, we can continue to have great outcomes.”