Tomorrow’s the day — Tennessee’s 2023 season is set to begin in Nashville with a meeting against the Virginia Cavaliers out of the ACC. Joe Milton’s third act as a starting quarterback actually got started at the end of last year, and he’ll be looking to stay hot in the opener here.
Tennessee shouldn’t have any issues here, as evidenced by the giant 28 point spread. Here’s how we think it all plays out.
Terry: Tennessee 41, Virginia 10
The Volunteers are just going to be too much here. Virginia has some pieces defensively, but will be missing top pass rusher Chico Bennett, which was one of the few matchups that they may have been able to exploit.
Tennessee may be without starting center Cooper Mays, which could make for a slow start as new faces settled into new places. But they’re going to hit a handful of big plays, picking on a new-look cornerback room for the Cavaliers.
Offensively, it’s difficult to see how Virginia will be able to hang. A new quarterback, a group of new receivers — a deeper Tennessee defense? In Nashville? This one is setting up to be all Vols.
Nick: Tennessee 38, Virginia 13
Nothing about Tony Elliot’s offense scares me — he can use all the motion and try to stretch the field horizontally all he wants, but this is gonna be the first look at UT’s overhauled defense, and I imagine they’re up to the task. The Vols are bigger, faster and stronger on that side of the ball this year, and the refined group is going to have a field day with this new UVA QB.
The Cavalier offensive line is a bit light, with the heaviest starter being junior and Brentwood, TN native LG Noah Josey (6-5, 315). He could present a challenge for UT’s interior D-line, as he allowed just one sack in 277 drop backs and, per PFF, graded out as the UVA’s top run-blocking lineman.
I’d imagine we’ll see some packages with Omari Thomas in the middle with Tyler Baron sliding inside, too, while any number of guys like Eli Herring, Joshua Josephs, Arion Carter, and James Pearce just go flying by the poor Virginia offensive linemen for a couple sacks or big plays.
I hope to see no more than two quarters of Joe Milton and the skill players. A couple big play TDs to the wideouts, or maybe Jaylin Wright hammering through the A-gap and making one guy miss in the second level en route to the Vols’ first explosive play of the year? Either way, go get the job done, go get the reserves in early, and then let’s see what some of the other youth on the roster can do in its first college football game.
Matt: Tennessee 50, Virginia 10
I don’t anticipate this game being remotely close. The Vols are overwhelmingly better at all positions, primarily on the offensive side of the ball.
I predicted Virginia to finish last in the ACC, and for good reason. This is a perfect game for Joe Milton to shake off some offseason rust and get some confidence under his belt. I’m looking forward to seeing who among the receivers group begins to separate themselves as the true WR1.
Defensively, it certainly won’t be their biggest test, but I’m focusing on the secondary. This was not a great unit a season ago, but I want to see if they continue to get gashed by big plays or if they can lock up the back half.
Christian: Tennessee 52, Virginia 17
We’re going to see some fireworks in Nashville. With Virginia playing without its best pass rusher in Chico Bennett and Tennessee’s potent offense and revamped defense there’s a good chance Saturday’s game gets ugly, fast.
Seeing that Virginia has no real threat to rush the passer, look for Coach Heupel to dial up some deep shots early to set the tone (and show off Joe Milton’s arm who are we kidding). While I’m not expecting big-time performances from any particular back, it would be nice to see Jaylin Wright get off to a hot start this year — nothing insane, maybe a 12 carries 65 yards and a touchdown kind of game.
Candidly speaking, I struggle to find a scenario where Virginia is able to keep pace with Tennessee on either side of the ball. Vols by a million — or in this case, 35.