Happy Friday, all.
The Tennessee Volunteers take on 1-7 UConn tomorrow at noon. The Vols are 36-point favorites. This shouldn’t and won’t be a game. If this ends up being competitive in any way, that would be a massive disappointment. Let’s go ahead and get that out of the way first.
That being said, there are some very basic things that I want to have seen when 3:00 pm rolls around.
1) Continuous effort and intensity. I want to see the mentality of a team that takes every minute that they’re on the field seriously. Yes, I’ve talked about that before - I’ve beaten it like a dead horse, to be more accurate - but as recently as two games ago, that’s still been a major issue. If a lack of focus and effort can happen against Tennessee’s biggest rival with UT holding a double-digit lead, it sure as heck can happen on Saturday. Great teams flatten sorry ones, and I want to see 11 guys in orange at any given time playing like their hair is on fire against a team they’re way better than. No more sleepwalking like we saw against UTSA and Austin Peay.
2) No one get hit with a serious injury. Another thing that may seem simple (because it is), but still extremely important. This is the Cedric Tillman factor. When he went down against Akron (yes, I know it was in the second quarter), that hobbled him for pretty much the rest of the season. Fortunately, last year’s offense was still able to flourish even without him, but this year’s team doesn’t have as much room to lose someone major and keep going like they didn’t miss a beat. If the Vols are rolling in the third quarter, get as many starters out as possible.
3) Get after the quarterback. Tennessee’s pass rush has been tremendous for much of the season, but unfortunately it disappeared at halftime in Tuscaloosa and really hasn’t been heard from since. Even though Josh Heupel has a fair point with his passive-aggressive silent protests of the officiating, the Vols’ pass rush should have done better the last two weeks. Harassing UConn quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson early and often would help begin to regain some confidence.
With Kamal Hadden out, UT’s secondary struggled against Kentucky. A resurgent pass rush would go a long way towards helping with that issue when the Vols taken on Missouri and Georgia. Saturday could be a first step towards getting right there.
4) Get Nico some reps. This goes hand in hand with point #2. I want to see Nico get some valuable live game reps in the second half. Even if it’s not a 30+ point lead by then. Get him in and let him work. This and Vanderbilt will likely be his last chance to get some work this year absent an injury to Joe, so if the Vols are comfortably ahead in the third quarter, then his number should be called.