Tennessee fell to 1-1 on Saturday, dropping a frustrating game to Pittsburgh. The Volunteers had every chance to win, but came up empty on every front.
Here’s the stock report.
After Jalin Hyatt left the game, Jimmy Calloway really stepped up and delivered on the hype he generated through camp. The sophomore receiver got his first significant playing time on Saturday, and immediately showed why he was a former highly ranked four-star athlete.
Calloway housed a simple screen pass that ended up going 44 yards, keeping Tennessee in the game at a time when all was beginning to feel lost. His pure athleticism was on display, as he kept his balance and exploded down the sideline for a game-changing score. He ended his day with three catches for 59 yards.
It’s unclear when Jalin Hyatt will return, but the Tennessee receiver room does appear to have some depth to it.
The short passing game got involved on Saturday and two of the beneficiaries were Jacob Warren and Princeton Fant. They didn’t particularly do anything special on Saturday, but they took care of business and moved the sticks. Jacob Warren even hauled in a touchdown. They were uniquely used, seemingly a part of some RPO looks for Heupel as we saw an expanded playbook.
Warren may continue to emerge as a true redzone threat with his 6-6 frame.
One thing Tennessee did well on Saturday was stuff the run. The defensive front won all day against the Pittsburgh offensive line, forcing the Panthers to go to the air. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, that plan worked for Kenny Pickett.
But the Tennessee front, particularly up front, found several key stops on Saturday to keep the Vols in the game. This unit continues to be much improved under instruction from Rodney Garner. Pittsburgh ran for just 96 yards, as Tennessee held Vincent Davis to 19 carries for just 33 yards.
The pass rush is a different story, but that group still gets a pass during the absence of Byron Young. More on that below.
Jackson has been the most pleasant surprise of the year to this point. After frankly an average career to this point, Jackson has exploded onto the scene in 2021, manning the STAR position. He put up 11 more tackles on Saturday, while adding a sack, two tackles for loss and a pass defensed.
Jackson is quickly playing his way into the 2022 NFL Draft conversation with that production.
Once Pittsburgh figured out they were going to run much against this Tennessee front, the game changed. Pickett found plenty of openings in the secondary, but I’m not going to put this on them too much. Tennessee failed to get any pressure on Pickett after the first quarter, losing every battle up front. When you don’t put any pressure on a veteran like that, you’re asking for trouble.
Now, obviously this group is missing Byron Young. After a stellar camp in both spring and the fall, Young is expected to make a big splash once he returns — likely this week. But on Saturday, Tennessee couldn’t generate any pressure and it was a massive part of why the Panthers scored 41 points.
Let’s see if the Vols can fire off Byron Young with a hot start against Tennessee Tech.
13 penalties for over 130 yards and three turnovers — not winning a lot of games with that statline. The self-inflicted personal fouls in particular were the most harmful, particularly on a day that saw Tennessee without so many key players due to injury. Cade Mays and Jeremy Banks each committed big ones, and likely heard plenty about that during the film sessions.
It wasn’t a pretty start, and it wasn’t a pretty finish for the Virginia Tech transfer. He began his day with a fumble and ended it with an interception. However, everything in between was pretty solid. It was a stark contrast from Joe Milton, who had every opportunity to give Tennessee a commanding lead in the first quarter.
Hooker, instead, connected on shorter passes and got the chains moving once again. He was a weapon in the run game too, handling nine carries for 49 yards. He went 15-21 through the air, throwing for 188 yards and two scores.
You certainly can understand why the staff picked Milton, but Hooker gave Tennessee the better chance to win on Saturday.
Can the staff really go back to Milton after what we’ve seen in his first two starts? That would be assuming he’s healthy, of course.
The thought of Milton in this offense is a whole lot of fun — rushing ability, elite arm strength — but the accuracy just flat out isn’t there. Usually with quarterbacks, that’s something that’s tough to teach, too. Milton misfired on several open throw down the field in the first quarter. Honestly, if he hits just a couple of them, Tennessee very well could have gone up 28-0 in the opening quarter. Instead, it was a 10-0 lead that was quickly swallowed up by Pittsburgh.
The physical traits are beyond obvious for Milton. Maybe he can figure it out one day. But Tennessee can’t afford to have him figure it out in real time when you’ve got Hendon Hooker and Harrison Bailey ready to go behind him.