By Jimmy Hyams
Alex Golesh has a simple but ambitious goal for Tennessee.
“The standard here is to be the best offense in the country,’’ Golesh, Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, said this week.
“We can say it, or we can work like it. There are a handful of guys who work like it. There are a bunch of guys learning to work like it.’’
Tennessee’s offense has been awesome for the most part. The Vols averaged 39.3 points per game the first year in Josh Heupel’s system while setting a school record for points scored (511).
But there have been lulls in the up-tempo attack. UT didn’t score on its first three possessions at Pitt and got just one field goal in five second-half drives against the Panthers.
As good as the offense was last season, it scored just 14 points against Florida, 17 against Georgia, struggled in the second quarter and didn’t covert as well as it should have on third-and-short.
“If we fall short,’’ Golesh said, “we continue to work. If we have a great game, we continue to work.’’
That philosophy helped the Vols score at least 45 points in seven games last year.
Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt said the Vols don’t shy away from big-time goals.
“We want to be the best offense in the country,’’ Hyatt said, “and it starts every day in practice. It starts every time we prepare for anybody we’re playing that week. That’s the mindset and the standard every day.’’
To be the best offense, Tennessee has to improve in several areas. It needs to expand the receiver rotation from three to five or six. It needs to avoid turnovers (Jaylen Wright has fumbled in back-to-back games). It needs to get more physical on the offensive line to convert in short-yardage situations.
Golesh said the fumbles are “disappointing’’ and “unacceptable,’’ but he is also high on Wright, who missed a couple of weeks of August camp with a quad injury.
“We believe in Jaylen,’’ Golesh said. “He was running his tail off at that point (the fumble). … Jaylen is a great player and will continue to be a great player as he grows and understands the importance in those situations of putting two hands on the ball, securing it and squeezing the heck out of it.’’
Golesh said two “pleasant surprises’’ on offense are transfers: left tackle Gerald Mincey (Florida) and wideout Bru McCoy (USC).
Golesh said Mincey is “naturally gifted, super athletic, really long’’ and has been a quick learner.
Golesh said McCoy is “really powerful, really dynamic’’ and is a “complete 100 percent worker. … He has been an incredible addition for us and I couldn’t be more proud of him.’’
McCoy, a five-star recruit out of Texas, signed with USC, transferred to Texas, went back to USC, played in 2020 but was suspended for the 2021 season over a domestic issue. He was not charged.
He then transferred to Tennessee.
“He’s one of the kids that’s beyond grateful to be here, beyond grateful for his opportunity,’’ Golesh said. “He’s having so much fun and we are lucky to have him here.’’
McCoy teams with the much-improved Hyatt and All-America candidate Cedric Tillman.
Golesh likes Tillman’s confidence and swagger.
“You could make an argument that he is the best receiver in the country,’’ Golesh said.
Hyatt said UT has “the best receiving corps in the SEC.’’ But to lay claim to that, UT must find more wideouts to help Hyatt, Tillman and McCoy.
While Golesh said the offensive line is playing “extremely well,’’ it could still improve in pass protection and run blocking.
Tennessee has one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Hendon Hooker to trigger the attack.
Which brings us back to this: Can Tennessee have the best offense in the country?
Heupel was asked what would define being the best offense in the country. Would it be leading the nation in scoring or total offense or something else?
“It’s defined by wins,’’ he said.
It can also be defined by your ability to go 80 yards in the final minutes to beat Florida or Alabama? Or your ability to convert a key thrd-and-2. Or your ability to run a four-minute offense to milk to clock at the end of a game.
If Tennessee’s offense can do those things, the wins will come.