Tennessee interim coach Brady Hoke is three seasons removed from his last head coaching stint at the University of Michigan. His tenure there started with a flash, but ended in disappointment , something Hoke can taste in the air in Knoxville.
The Volunteers spent all year carrying the weight of Butch Jones’ trash can over their heads until John Currie tossed him in the bin last Sunday. The Vols have had three days of “Hoke fever” and have been eating it up. There just seems to be a renewed energy around the program. That being said, what should Vol fans actually expect of Brady Hoke’s two-game stretch as head man on campus?
Business as Usual
The first expectation of Hoke is to not be too crazy. He has claimed he is going to make tweaks to practice schedules, which shouldn’t cause chaos. Ideally, Hoke can infuse some energy, bolster team morale and create competition. But, Hoke might now want to go crazy trying to tweak everything Butch did.
Along the same lines, Hoke should figure out who his best players (John Kelly) are and highlight them. Even more so, let them run rampant — give the offense a chance to look better than its recent struggles. Maybe even throw a trick play or two in the game plan to get some team energy going and get Neyland Stadium on its feet.
Stop the Run
One of the biggest issues with the Vols’ season thus far has been the gaping holes in the defense. Hoke should be well aware as defensive line coach, but he needs to send a message to his players and get them to close those holes.
A lot could be said from making a statement against LSU’s Derrius Guice. Guice has racked up 494 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the past three games. There are few better running backs in the SEC.
Expect an improved offense
History shows that Brady Hoke’s offenses do one thing consistently: run the ball well. In his first three seasons as a coach, his teams scored over 45 touchdowns on the ground.
Each of those teams averaged more than 350 total yards on offense as well. For an offense that is struggling to move the ball, Hoke may be able to create a spark. Hopefully, Vol fans will get to see a rejuvenation of John Kelly’s impressive stiff arms and breakaway ability.
Realistic Expectation: Go 1-1
LSU has been the weirdest team this season. The Tigers ruined their homecoming by losing to Troy, but have looked good since. Sure, they lost to big brother Alabama, but who hasn’t this year?
Tennessee can push LSU’s momentum back into a negative spiral by welcoming them to Neyland Stadium and keeping the game close. If Hoke loses game one in close fashion, it will be a moral victory — but Hoke won’t make cliche claims like the previous coach.
When Vandy comes to town, it is time for Hoke to get revenge in rivalry games where one team is the “little brother.” Hoke went 1-3 against Michigan State, often considered Michigan’s little brother, during his time with with the Wolverines.
Against Vanderbilt, Hoke finds himself coaching the team considered “big brother” and needs to make sure his team plays accordingly.
Unrealistic Expectation: Turn two games into three
Hoke has the potential to turn two games into three with a bowl game in the postseason. Sure, the new coach may get to coach the bowl game, but Hoke will have gone 2-0 and gotten the team there. That’s what matters.
Hoke went 1-2 in bowl games with Michigan. His first year as coach, he won the Sugar Bowl. The next year, Jadeveon Clowney murdered his running back in the Outback Bowl. Hoke’s goal for the bowl game, if they make it, should be to not let that happen to John Kelly or Ty Chandler.
Expect the craziness in press conferences to continue. Hoke will continue to make headlines and keep team-related items close to his chest, and we’ll only hear more about his new idea to wear a headset on the sideline.
He will continue to coach the team in shorts in cooler weather: 40 degrees probably feels like 65 degrees to his Midwestern blood. You should also expect Hoke to continue to play with the media, forcing them to laugh at his “aw shucks” demeanor and giving no real information.
Overall, the Vols should use the revitalization of their fan base to motivate them. Hoke has a chance to give the Vols what they want to see in the next two games: wins. Sure, LSU has looked impressive at times this season, but the Tigers have also looked beatable. Hoke may be able to use the night game atmosphere of Neyland Satdium to inspire and will his team to victory.
Against Vandy, I expect the pass defense to continue its “statistical” dominance. Kyle Shurmur’s arm provides the majority of the offense’s power, having thrown for 2,192 yards and 21 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Ralph Webb has only scored seven touchdowns on 613 rushing yards this season.
Consequently, Hoke can cement his interim legacy with a win to keep the Vols from experiencing an eight-loss season in 2017. If Hoke can go 2-0 and get this team to a bowl game, it can only help the next coach and recruits with the “eye test” of the program. More than anything else, Vol Nation’s expectations of Hoke need to be on fixing the country’s perception of the program, and that starts in prime time on Saturday.