The Tennessee Volunteers (1-1) are coming off a tough loss to the Pitt Panthers (2-0), but fortunately, they have one their softest matchups on the schedule up next in the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (0-2).
Can the Vols bounce back and move to 2-1 on the season?
- All-time series: The Vols are 6-0 against the Eagles, with the first matchup dating back to 1947.
- Largest margin of victory: The Vols obliterated Tech, 68-0, back in 1951 and have won the last two meetings by a combined score of 123-0.
- 2021 offensive and defensive rankings: The Vols currently have the 55th-ranked offense (92nd passing, 24th rushing) and the 50th-ranked defense (92nd passing, 17th rushing). They average 36 points per game on offense and allow an average of 23.5 points per game. The Golden Eagles (FCS ranks) have the 109th-ranked offense (95th passing, 110th rushing) and the 69th-best defense (91st passing, 43rd rushing). They average seven points per game on offense and have allowed an average of 39 points per game.
What To Watch For
- Tennessee’s quarterback situation: Josh Heupel hasn’t committed one way or the other to a quarterback, but we all know it’ll either be Hendon Hooker or Joe Milton taking snaps on Saturday. Hooker looked really good against Pitt, but who knows how much of that was due to a lack of prep on Pitt’s side. Regardless, either quarterback will have a good opportunity for a tuneup game before the team heads to Gainesville next week.
- Can the Vols hit their deep shots: Most of the ineptitude falls on Milton, but the receivers -mainly Jalin Hyatt- have also let their quarterback down from time to time. Regardless, the Vols will have a prime shot (no pun intended) at getting the timing and rhythm down for the shots downfield.
- The running game: Tiyon Evans is still having issues with availability and Jabari Small left the Pitt game at halftime and didn’t return. Heupel said Wednesday neither back has been cleared to return, which could leave true freshman Jaylen Wright with the bulk of responsibility in the backfield. Wright was largely unimpressive, but Small wasn’t doing anything earth-shattering himself, either. If Wright does get the nod, then the key there will be pass protection. Will the true freshman be able to pick up his blitz assignments in order to keep his quarterback upright? The Vols don’t need another injury to the quarterback room, especially against an opponent like Tech.
- Where’s the pass rush: Tennessee’s defense looks a lot better than what was prognosticated heading into the season, but it really needs the pass rush to step up. The secondary actually played a really solid game last week, but was still burned at times thanks to zero quarterback pressure. The Vols should be able to find success this week, but it needs to be seen, first. The return of Byron Young should help.
- Health, health, health: The main objective for the Vols is to stay healthy. This game is essentially chalked up as a scrimmage, so it would be devastating to lose a key contributor. Hopefully the team can get out to a big lead and rest the starters as soon as possible.
- Quarterback: Whomever plays will have a shot to put some good work on tape.
- RB Jaylen Wright: It sounds like Wright is going to be the guy this week. Can he improve off his pedestrian performance against Pitt?
- WR Jimmy Calloway: That run-after-the-catch touchdown against Pitt was awfully impressive and could be the spark Calloway needs to take off.
- DE Byron Young: The JUCO transfer will make his Volunteer debut and it should be a nice one considering the opponent.
- LB Juwan Mitchell: Mitchell bounced back with seven total tackles and a PBU last week after a weird opener where he didn’t even get on the stat sheet. The Vols need him to get going.
- DB Theo Jackson: I usually like to mix the impact players up from week-to-week, but Jackson was lights out again against Pittsburgh. So, he gets the spot for another week.
Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles
- Quarterback: Like Tennessee, Tech is a bit dicey at the quarterback position, but it’s not because of injury, it’s because of poor play. This doesn’t mean the Vols can relax, though.
- RB David Gist: He’s the team’s leading rusher with 104 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. He’s a quicker, shiftier back at 5-foot-11, 190-pounds. Stopping Gist should be Tennessee’s No. 1 priority.
- WR Quinton Cross: The team’s leading receiver who can also be used out of the backfield.
- DE Devin Squires: Tech has just one sack on the year and it belongs to Squires, who’s flashed a couple of times this season.
- LB Seth Carlisle: He’s a tackling machine (17 total tackles through two games) and can also cover, evidenced by his two PBUs in as many games.
- DB Josh Reliford: Reliford is only 5-foot-10, 190-pounds, but he plays much bigger than his size. He leads the team with three PBUs and is second with 16 total tackles, so expect to hear his name called a few times on Saturday.
Tennessee Tech is the exact type of opponent you want after a tough loss and when you have a few injury concerns, but that still doesn’t mean the Vols need to take the Golden Eagles lightly.
In fact, keeping focus and avoiding costly mistakes are two areas the Vols need to work on. The penalties and turnovers derailed any shot at beating Pitt and there’s no way the Vols are going to even compete with a top-tier SEC team if they continue down this path. This game needs to feature as few mistakes as possible.
But even if the Vols do come out sloppy, this should still be a relatively easy win. Tech is simply not a good football team and Tennessee is obviously much more talented.
Expect the Vols to bounce back and head into Gainesville with a 2-1 record next week.