The Tennessee Vols finished the 2021 season with the No. 7 scoring offense in the nation.

In 2020, the year before Josh Heupel was hired as the program’s head coach, Tennessee had the No. 109 scoring offense in the nation.

Nice improvement, right?

Heupel received a lot of credit for the Vols’ offensive turnaround in 2021.

He also saw that improvement downplayed by some media analysts as well as opposing fan bases.

Critics of Heupel’s offense have suggested it’s gimmicky and too simple.

Those critics have a massive misunderstanding of Heupel’s offense. And I think it’s simply because it’s different than what fans/analysts are used to seeing on a football field. It’s not a traditional pro-style offense.

Tennessee Vols
Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) runs the football down the field as South Carolina linebacker Damani Staley (30) defends during an NCAA college football game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the South Carolina Gamecocks in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021.

The truth is that Tennessee’s offense isn’t really as simple as folks make it out to be.

One reason we know that is because it takes some players a while to grasp the offense.

Starting quarterback Hendon Hooker, for example, didn’t have a good command of the offense last summer, which was one of the main reasons Joe Milton won the job out of camp.

“The first two or three months in the offense was difficult,” explained Hooker during an appearance earlier this year on The Slice podcast. “Just trying to move so fast and think at the same time was tough. But the more repetition and the more work you put in, just like anything, you’ll get better at it.”

Vols transfer wide receiver Bru McCoy, who is hoping to be eligible this fall, also took a little while to pick up the offense this summer.

“He’s learning how to play in our offensive system and how to play from the whistle, from the previous snap to the next one,” said Heupel when asked about McCoy on Monday after Tennessee’s first fall practice. “For him, I think he’s gained a much better understanding of that throughout the course of the summer. The first couple weeks of June, so much dramatically different than by the time we got to July with him.”

If the offense was as easy as folks like to claim, then we wouldn’t see key Tennessee players having to work so hard to grasp it.

If you need more proof then just listen to what former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy had to say last week during SEC Media Days.

“I would have loved it,’’ said McElroy of the Vols’ offense (via WNML). “Just because you have to be so smart before the snap. And the coaches are calling it so quickly and you’re getting favorable matchups because of where defenders are aligned.’’

“I have the utmost respect for the offensive system that they run,” added McElroy.

When people don’t understand something, they tend to dismiss it. And it feels like that’s what’s been happening with Tennessee’s offense over the last year.

Results, however, don’t lie. And the Vols’ offense was one of the best in the nation last year. I don’t think it matters how the play is called or what routes wide receivers are running, all that matters is putting points on the scoreboard — something Tennessee was quite good at last season.

Featured image via Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK