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Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia nose tackle Jordan Davis breaks through Tennessee's offensive line last Saturday afternoon to set his sights on Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker.

Tennessee continues to lead major college football with 2.94 offensive plays per minute, and the Volunteers possess one of the nation's top-20 scoring arsenals with a robust 36.1 points per game.

What offensive metric would Vols first-year coach Josh Heupel most like to adjust?

That's an easy one.

"The glaring thing for us as an offense, if you just look statistically of where we're at and who we've been, would be our pass protection, and that's something we have to improve on," Heupel said Thursday during his final news conference before Saturday night's home game against South Alabama. "Everyone is going to think O-line right there immediately as I say that, but it's really everybody. It's the running backs included, and it's the quarterback.

"It's wide receivers doing the right thing at the right time and getting open quickly. I think our pass protection is something we've got to clean up."

Tennessee is tied for 127th nationally in sacks allowed with 39, or 3.9 per game, with only Akron and Southern Mississippi ranking worse. The Vols yielded six sacks for 57 yards in last week's 41-17 loss to No. 1 Georgia, though Tennessee did sack Stetson Bennett twice, which were just the sixth and seventh allowed by the Bulldogs this season.

"Obviously we've played some really good defenses who can get after the quarterback, too," Heupel said.

 

Still motivating

In Heupel's three seasons at Central Florida from 2018-20, the Knights amassed a 28-8 record that included a 19-5 mark in American Athletic Conference contests.

Though his Knights played meaningful AAC games down the stretch and his Vols were eliminated from the SEC East hunt entering this month, Heupel has not noticed a difference in attitude.

"I don't find it hard to motivate this group," he said. "We've lost some games to some really good teams, and our guys have shown up and competed in a great way. You take a look at where we started this process in week one to who we are now and how we prepare and how we compete and the consistency inside our building because of our coaching staff — we just continue to grow and get better.

"This group cares a lot and has been through some tough things, and they understand that they're part of the growing. It's a group that has started to understand that the end result matters, but they are focused on the daily tasks and the process that you've got to go through."

 

Recruiting overlap

Heupel was asked Thursday whether he and his staff have divided recruiting responsibilities by territories or by positions.

"I think in today's world, those two things ultimately end up blending together," he said. "I think every job is different — proximity, location, where your recruiting base is, how much national you are, because the more national you are, the more position-based it becomes. For us, we do have primary and secondary areas for our coaches.

"At the same time, as you get through the recruiting process and the initial piece of the evaluation or finding names and seeing body types, at one point it ultimately will end up getting position-specific."

 

Evans not likely

Not one to provide many injury details during the week, Heupel said after Thursday's practice that leading rusher Tiyon Evans "wasn't able to do much today and probably won't be able to go tomorrow."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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