Tennessee’s chess-playing mentality will prove beneficial in 2022

Tennessee OC Alex Golesh (left) and head coach Josh Heupel (right). Photo via Tennessee Atletics

Football is an aggressive, physical and fast-paced sport played on turf or turf. Yet at the same time, it’s an epic, year-long chess match between individuals who don’t step between the lines of the game.

With a year of tape in the books on what this Tennessee team looks like in the days of Josh Heupel, the Vols coaching staff is fully aware of the next task of evolving all three phases of the game. And for Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, that’s where much of his attention was focused in the spring.

In the game of chess, moves are often visualized several turns in advance, as both players try to form a series of predictions and guesses about how the game will unfold. A high-level chess player will always be thinking about upcoming turns as they try to outsmart their opponent.

Similar to football, coaches are always trying to figure out what moves the other team is going to put on the board, or on the pitch in this case, and how they are going to put their pieces in the future as well.

“In many ways, that’s what I spent all spring doing,” Golesh said Tuesday. “Man, we hurt them here. They will remove that. What’s the next backlash to that? »

Tennessee was excellent on their first or two offensive tries last season. However, coaches have now had an entire offseason to study the film and try to figure out how the Tennessee offense works in certain scenarios. As Golesh said on Tuesday, he tries to visualize these movements in advance. If Tennessee scores on an 80-yard throw and catches JaVonta Payton, Golesh is already thinking about how the opposing team might react, then planning ahead how to reverse that move as well.

Ultimately, in many ways, football and chess is about anticipating people’s reactions.

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“You have to anticipate responses to people’s responses,” Golesh said Tuesday. “I think most of the time you’re playing a team for the first time, if you refer specifically to the tempo, just like you saw a year ago, teams settle in. Players settle in I think it’s really hard to replicate in practice, so people tend to settle, you get to the second or third quarter, and people are used to it. The callers on the other side of the ball determine what they can and cannot enter at tempo, so you need to have answers.

While he wasn’t too keen on sharing everything that was thought about behind closed doors during the offseason, Golesh said Tennessee was evolving and learning to have specific responses in specific situations.

“For us, it’s a whole host of different things,” Golesh said. “I don’t want to share it, but we have answers to match the tempo. Answers to how they answer it.

Whether the 2022 offense is more productive than the 2021 offense remains to be seen. However, with all the prep work that has been done in the offseason, Tennessee is certainly well prepared for the upcoming chess game with the season.

“There were no secrets,” Golesh said Tuesday. “A year ago we came from a place where the system, tempo-wise, spacing-wise, was similar. We have grown and evolved in many ways. You saw a year ago, over the year we have grown and evolved. In terms of how we get off the ball, we have developed formation-wise, we have to continue to develop formation-wise. Whether it’s movement or the offensive disguise of imagery, we’ve continued to grow. We are radically different today than we were two years ago when we left the previous place. We are radically different today than we were leaving in Nashville.

Tennessee will open the 2022 season against Ball State on Thursday, September 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

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