In case you’ve been living under a rock, Tennessee hired their 27th coach in school history Wednesday. Former UCF Athletic Director Danny White hired former UCF Head Coach Josh Heupel to fill that vacancy. Heupel debuted to mixed reviews, to say the least. Whether you love the hire or hate, he’s the guy now, and that isn’t changing anytime soon. A lot of people are still trying to figure out what Tennessee is truly getting with Heupel. He wasn’t really on anybody’s hot board, so his history is still somewhat of a mystery to some.
This is not to try to persuade anyone’s opinion. As a matter of fact, the majority of fans have probably already formed their opinions. This is to take a more in-depth look at the numbers behind Josh Heupel.
Missouri 2016-17 (Offensive Coordinator)
Heupel took over as the offensive coordinator at Missouri in 2016. The year prior Missouri finished the season as the second worst offensive team in the country. That is not an exaggeration either. They finished 127th of 128 in points per game with 13.6. Keep in mind, Drew Lock was the starter for Missouri in 2015. Fast forward a year and that number jumped all the way to 31.4 ppg. That jumped Missouri 79 spots to 48 out of 128. Move ahead to 2017 and the numbers continued to improve. The Tigers averaged 37.5 ppg good for 14th best in the country. Points per game can be arbitrary, though. So, how did just the offense do?
In 2015 prior to Heupel being there Missouri averaged a lowly 280.9 yards per game. For comparison, in 2020 Tennessee averaged 346.2 yards per game. After Heupel took over the Tigers offense he increased their yards per game to 500.5 in 2016 and raised it again in 2017 to 503.2. It’s pretty clear Heupel improved Missouri’s offense substantially. Heupel also is known for being a quarterbacks guru. So, did Drew Lock improve?
Before Heupel, Lock had a pretty mediocre season throwing the football. He threw for 1,332 yards, 4 TD’s and 8 interceptions. Enter Heupel and Drew Lock turned into a completely different quarterback. In 2016 under Heupel, Lock passed for 3,399 yards, 23 TD’s and 10 interceptions. Then in his second year under Heupel, Lock cemented himself as a Missouri legend. 3,964 yards through the air, 44 TD’s and 13 picks. Say what you want about Missouri as a team back then, but their offense was not the issue while Heupel was there.
2015: PPG: 13.6 Passing Yards Per Game: 165.5 Offensive Yards Per Game: 280.9
2016: PPG: 31.4 Passing Yards Per Game: 295.4 Offensive Yards Per Game: 500.5
2017: PPG: 37.5 Passing Yards Per Game: 308.6 Offensive Yards Per Game: 503.2
UCF 2018-20 (Head Coach)
At first glance the glaring stat that comes to mind from Heupel’s time at UCF is his win/loss record. In 2018 UCF went 12-1 followed by a 10-3 record in 2019, and finally a 6-4 record in 2020. While this is a legitimate concern for some, and rightfully so, his offense did still improve every year he was there.
Starting with the total offensive yards per game, the numbers are quite shocking. In 2018 UCF averaged 523.5 yards per game. That number increased to 541.5 in 2019 and 568.1 in Heupel’s final year. When he said that he wants to play with tempo he meant it, as 568 yards per game is just incredible.
Taking a step further and only focusing on the quarterbacks, the numbers are just as staggering. In 2018 McKenzie Milton threw for 2,663 yards, 25 TD’s and 6 interceptions. This equated to Milton averaging 266.3 yards per game. In 2019, true freshman Dillon Gabriel took over Heupel’s system. As a freshman Gabriel threw for 3,653 yards, 29 TD’s and 7 interceptions, averaging 281 yards per game. As a sophomore Gabriel’s total passing yards slightly decreased to 3,570. He still managed 32 TD’s and only 4 interceptions. The kicker here is that Gabriel played in three less games in 2020. With the COVID-19 shortened season UCF only played 10 games. So even though he threw for less total yards, his yards per game increased by 76, as he averaged 357 passing yards per game.
2018: PPG: 43.2 Passing Yards Per Game: 257.5 Offensive Yards Per Game: 523.5
2019: PPG: 43.4 Passing Yards Per Game: 316.7 Offensive Yards Per Game: 541.5
2020: PPG: 42.2 Passing Yards Per Game: 357.4 Offensive Yards Per Game: 568.1
Tennessee 2021 (Head Coach)
It is pretty apparent that no matter where Heupel has been, offense hasn’t been an issue. However, now that he is a head coach he has to worry about the defense too, something that plagued him at UCF. Despite all of these concerns it should still be refreshing to see some competent offense inside Neyland Stadium again. One of the biggest issues fans had with Jeremy Pruitt, aside from his losing, is that his teams were flat out boring to watch. Predicting the future is hard, but Tennessee fans won’t have that issue with Heupel.
While all the concerns of Josh Heupel are completely valid, one thing is certain. The guy knows how to run an offense, and he should at the very least make watching Tennessee football exciting again.