1. Offense far outpaced defense.
Everybody’s takeaway from Tennessee football’s spring game was that Josh Heupel is going to make things fun this year with his offense. Outside of a pick-six by Warren Burrell, that was a clinic for both teams.
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Here’s the problem, though. The defense needs to be ahead of the offense this time of year, even for teams that are driven by elite offenses. That’s not just a cliche either. It’s crucial regardless of the type of system you run, especially if you’re installing a new, more complex offense. Look at the data behind Heupel’s spring games specifically.
In his two spring games with the UCF Knights, the scores were 23-17 in 2019 and 17-14 in 2018. He went undefeated in the regular season and won the AAC in 2018 and then had a solid 10-win season the next year. There was no spring game in 2020, to be fair, but it’s likely that would have been more high-scoring since that was his worst team.
Tim Banks’ switch from a 3-4 to a nickel-based 4-3 along with all the defensive linemen and linebackers being out could explain some of the issues. However, they don’t explain the struggles being on the level they were at. This was an issue throughout the spring, not just in the spring game, but the spring game is where it was most on display.
With Heupel back in the SEC, it’s hard to believe that offensive clinic will repeat itself in the regular season. What’s more crucial is for Tennessee football to focus on shoring up its defense. The spring was a major issue, and the offensive success is actually a concern.