New Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel is widely known as an offensive guru.
Heupel’s offenses at Missouri (where he was the offensive coordinator for two seasons) and UCF put up ridiculous numbers.
In Heupel’s first season at Mizzou (in 2016) the Tigers had the No. 13 offense at the FBS level (500 yards per game). In his second season, Missouri had the No. 8 offense (503 yards per game).
Heupel’s offenses at UCF ranked No. 4 (523 yards per game in 2018), No. 2 (541.5 yards per game in 2019), and No. 2 (568 yards per game in 2020).
Quarterbacks, specifically, put up big numbers in Heupel’s system. Former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock tossed for 3,964 yards and 44 touchdowns as a junior in 2017.
Dillon Gabriel has been similarly effective at UCF under Heupel. Gabriel passed for over 3,600 yards as a true freshman in 2019. This past season, in just 10 games, Gabriel passed for 3,570 yards. Gabriel has 61 passing touchdowns in 23 career games at UCF.
At this point, you’re probably thinking that the title of this post doesn’t make sense with all the stats I just threw at you.
I’m getting there.
On paper, Heupel’s offense is a dream scenario for a quarterback. Put up big numbers, get selected early in the NFL draft.
But that may not necessarily be the case.
Here’s the problem with Heupel’s offense — it’s incredibly simple. The playbook isn’t expansive and it doesn’t require much thinking from the quarterback. Good for the scoreboard, bad for quarterback development.
Consider Lock’s comments after Heupel left Missouri and Derek Dooley was hired to run the Tigers’ offense.
From Stl Today:
“This is exactly what I wanted to experience,” he added. “I want to go into a meeting at the (NFL) combine and be able to speak ball. I want to be able to talk NFL stuff with NFL people and I wasn’t going to be able to do that (after) last year. I felt like I was good enough to go out there and sling it with those guys. I was a good enough quarterback, but I think maybe on the understanding of NFL ball I wasn’t necessarily there.”
One of the reasons Lock returned for his senior season at Missouri is because he didn’t feel like he was prepared for the NFL.
Top quarterback recruits want to go to college to win a national championship and become better prepared for the NFL.
If an elite quarterback recruit is considering Tennessee and another top program, the tiebreaker could come down to where the recruit sees better NFL development happening.
And that’s where Heupel could run into trouble.
The same thing goes for the defensive side of the ball.
Recently, there was a clip that floated around social media of Nick Saban’s two-minute recruiting pitch to a recruit. One of the things that Saban mentioned in that clip was that at Alabama you become better every day because of the competition in practice.
With Heupel, his offense isn’t necessarily preparing the defensive side of the ball for what they’ll see on Saturdays in the SEC. This is something that former Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters pointed out after Heupel left the Tigers to become the head coach at UCF.
From STL Today:
New formations also mean new alignments and packages from the defense. Count defensive coordinator Ryan Walters among those who appreciate the new looks. Mizzou’s former offense didn’t prepare the Tigers for any team they’d see during the season, Walters said.
“In terms of preparation and defending route trees with the element of being able to go fast and stretch you vertically and horizontally across the field, we’re seeing everything,” Walters said. “It’s good for our players, good for our staff to be able to come with answers and make adjustments and play football really.”
I think Heupel brings a lot of good things to Tennessee. His offense is going to be fun to watch. And I think he’ll be able to get a lot more out of his offensive players than any coach UT’s had since Lane Kiffin.
But there are some things he has to overcome, too. The Vols need to find a way to recruit elite quarterbacks to Rocky Top to run Heupel’s offense. And they have to find a way to prepare for more complex offenses in the SEC.
Heupel did a great job at UCF. But he’s going to have to tweak the approach he used in Orlando if he’s going to be successful in Knoxville.
Featured image via James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports