Let’s be honest. We all saw it last week. Tennessee football had an up-tempo offense that generated early buzz with back to back touchdowns in its opener against the Bowling Green Falcons, but then it fizzled out and did not look like a Josh Heupel offense at all.
The Vols won 38-6 against arguably the worst team in FBS play, and they should have won by more, as Joe Milton III missed two key touchdown passes, Jalin Hyatt had a bad drop and the defense led BGSU move on them in the second quarter. Those were all major concerns.
Well, now as they look ahead to the Pittsburgh Panthers, the players seem to be much more concerned about those issues than the coaches. It goes back to the press conference immediately after the game.
Heupel did say there were things that need to be fixed on both sides of the ball, but then all he did was tout the great win. He even claimed there were no issues with the tempo. He followed that up Monday by touting all the “positive” things his players did. Then came assistants following up, as Jerry Mack touted the “violence” Tiyon Evans runs with.
Contrast that with what Tennessee football’s players said. Theo Jackson immediately said after the game the Vols need to “tighten up” in the passing game. Then came the major players involved in the offense who didn’t have a lot of nice things to say.
In the same media session in which Mack touted Tiyon Evans, his other running back, Jabari Small, was critical of his own performance. Small openly said he “wasn’t too pleased” with his performance. Meanwhile, amidst all the talk about the tempo of the offense, lineman Jerome Carvin said it has to go faster.
Simply put, when you break it all down, the players are clearly showing less happiness about their performance than the coaches. Now, perhaps that’s a good sign. After all, the coaches probably see the same issues with the players but are just less likely to talk about them in media sessions.
If the coaches and players are both on the same page with these issues, that makes it much more likely that they’ll get corrected. Of course, then the question becomes whether or not the problems come down to lack of talent or mistakes.
Either way, Tennessee football has players willing to self-reflect publicly while coaches try to protect them in every way. The fact of the matter is it was an ugly win last Thursday, and everybody should be honest about that.