Head Coach: Josh Huepel
Offensive Coordinator: Alex Golesh
Defensive Coordinator: Tim Banks Conference: SEC
2021 Record: 7-6 (4-4) (Lost to Purdue in the Music City Bowl) 2022 Non Conference Opponents: Ball State, Pittsburgh, Akron, UT Martin Key Additions: WR Bru McCoy (USC)
Josh Huepel and his staff did a tremendous job turning around the Tennessee program in their first year, and the Volunteer faithful are looking forward to another productive season with all the talent and coaches they return.
At quarterback, the Vols have Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker, who took over after Joe Milton was a complete disaster last season. On the contrary to Milton, Hooker had an extremely good season, throwing for almost 3,000 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and only three interceptions. As a passer, Hooker’s only weakness is throwing the deep ball, but he makes up for it by being effective on intermediate and short passes, while also being very smart with the ball. On top of his impressive numbers as a passer, Hooker is a very strong runner as well as hge rushed for over 700 yards and six touchdowns in 2021. Standing at 6’4 and weighing over 210 pounds, Hooker is a bigger quarterback who is not easy to take down. His mix of size, experience and football IQ is very intriguing at the college level, and I expect him to be one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC once again. Hooker is Tennessee’s main threat in the rushing department, so the Vols don’t stress not having a valuable lead running back. However, when they do use a back this season it will be Jabari Small. Small was very good last season, rushing for 785 yards which was second on the team, for nine touchdowns. He possesses very good speed and is a great complement to Hooker who is much more physical. Last season, only three players on Tennessee were targeted more than 30 times and the Vols return two of them in 2022. One of which is Cedric Tillman, one of the toughest receivers in the nation. Last season, Tillman averaged 2.46 yards per route run and had over 1,000 receiving yards. Tillman is a very lengthy player, standing at 6’3, and his large catch radius allows him to come down with contested catches at a high level. Last season, he came down with 13 contested catches on 18 attempts, a 72.2% rate. With Tillman returning and progressing, Hendon Hooker has one of the best receivers in the nation at his disposal. The other returning player who had more than 30 targets last season was Jalin Hyatt. Hyatt played 96% of his snaps from the slot last season and expect more of that in 2022. He is no Cedric Tillman, but gets the job done. The offensive line did not give up many pressures last season, but had an issue with penalties, as four of five starters committed at least five. The Vols return some good pieces from last year's group in Darnell Wright and Jerome Carvin, who combined allowed only three sacks and 26 pressures, but unfortunately committed 19 penalties. If the Vols can limit the flags, their offensive line has a ton of potential.
On the defensive line, I’m a huge fan of what the Vols have this season. Last season, they had five defensive ends who played more than 180 pass rushing snaps, and they are fortunate to get three of them back. The two starters will be Tyler Baron and Byron Young, while Roman Harrison will be more of a rotational piece. Baron is an animal and one of the most underrated players in the nation. Last season, he recorded 32 pressures and six sacks. While these numbers are impressive, I think he is due for an even better 2022 season and I would not be shocked to see Baron eclipse 50 pressures and double digit snaps. He stands at 6’5 and weighs 260 pounds and has a plethora of pass rushing moves that contributed to his 18.1% win rate. As I mentioned, Byron Young will be opposite him, and one could argue the two are a top ten duo in the nation. Last season, Young also had 32 pressures, but had seven sacks. While I don’t believe his upside is as high as Baron’s, Young is still a fantastic player and offers value defending the run as well. Last season, Young compiled 16 stops and had an average depth per tackle of 1.9 yards, which is fantastic for a defensive end. Aside from the defensive ends, the Vols also get pass rushing production from their linebacker duo of Aaron Beasley and Jeremy Banks, who had 33 pressures and six sacks combined last season. The defensive tackles aren’t great pass rushers, but their run stopping ability is fantastic. The lone returning starter is Omari Thomas, who compiled 12 stops and had an average depth per tackle of 2.1 yards. While Thomas has more experience than his counterpart, I believe Elijah Simmons is due for a breakout year. Simmons is listed at 6’4, 350 pounds and looks every part of that build. He is a nightmare to move and should attract some double teams, which will give more opportunities to the rest of the Vols line. Last season, Simmons only played 67 pass rushing snaps, and excelled, totaling eight stops and having an average depth per tackle of 1.7 yards. While the front seven is very serviceable, the Vols secondary has me a bit worried. In 2021, their cornerback depth was fantastic as they were able to rotate five players without a real drop in production. This season, it's not like that, and all three starters were not very good last season. In all reality, the only above average player in the secondary is safety Trevon Flowers, who only gave up one touchdown and allowed a passer rating of 54.6 last season. The only hope for the Vols secondary is hoping Flowers can do what he did last year and the rest of the group could be average, as currently they are weighing down the defense, which has a very good front seven.
The Vols schedule is very challenging, as they have to face the defending ACC Champions in Pitt, and also have to play both Alabama and Georgia. If they could pick up a win in just one of those games, it would go a long way. Outside of those three and the LSU game, the rest of the Vols schedule is very winnable, and I could see them being as good as 8-4.
Record Prediction: 7-5 (4-4) V Ball State: Win AT Pittsburgh: Loss
AT Akron: Win
V Florida: Win
AT LSU: Loss
V Alabama: Loss
V UT Martin: Win
V Kentucky: Win
AT Georgia: Loss
V Missouri: Win
AT South Carolina: Loss
AT Vanderbilt: Win