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Staff picks: Tennessee vs. UTSA

The picks are in.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tennessee is coming off of an SEC opener loss to Florida last week — now they get a tricky UTSA team in Knoxville. The Volunteers have plenty to figure out, but they better not sleepwalk this weekend.

Below are our picks for the game.

Terry: Tennessee 34, UTSA 16

Full disclosure, the Frank Harris injury situation means a lot here. Even if he were to play, it’s doubtful he’d be anywhere close to 100 percent. That’s one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in all of college football, and it’s a shame his final season has started like this.

Tennessee has to play cleaner, that much is obvious. It’s going to be interesting to see how this team responds to adversity — will they use it to refocus? Or will it slowly begin to erode? UTSA is a good football team, but Tennessee should be able to handle them with ease. Even if they have to lean on their ground game heavily, that should be enough to get by the Roadrunners.

There will be some uneasy moments, just like the Austin Peay game and early on against Virginia, but Tennessee will eventually separate.

Nick: Tennessee 31, UTSA 14

Despite winning 23 games in the last two seasons, UTSA has gotten off to a disappointing 1-2 start.

But last week they played Army, and it’s just really tough to game plan for what Army does offensively.

Still — this week isn’t about what UTSA does. It’s about what Tennessee does. A Vols’ running game that looked strong against UVA and Austin Peay, with Jaylen Wright going for more than 100 yards in each game, was neutralized in the Swamp last week.

UT needs to get the running game back on track, and I’d personally like to see Dylan Sampson more involved in the offense, whether it be in the run game or in the passing game. He didn’t have a rush or a catch last week. And he’s shown the ability to be a weapon. Give him looks.

Everybody saw the lack of execution and discipline against Florida, and this UTSA game gives UT a chance to right that ship.

The Vols cannot come out playing uninspired football, or the noise that started when Aaron Beasley said he wasn’t surprised at the lack of execution in Gainesville after participating in fall camp is going to get *a lot* louder.

UT has to be the aggressor early and give Joe Milton a chance to pop off a big play or two. He’s not Hendon Hooker, so we can’t expect that sort of play. But give him opportunities to do what he does well.

Execute the offense, build up a lead with a long TD throw (or two) and show a solid running game, then this turns into a a good time to get the young DBs — Jourdan Thomas, Rickey Gibson, Christian Harrison — some live game reps. Maybe even get some of the sophomore offensive lineman in, too. We’re running out of chances to figure out what we have in our younger players.

Whatever happens… the offense line and the defensive backs can’t play that poorly again. If they do, we could be in real trouble.

Matt: Vols-31 UTSA-10

I think a lot of the competitive nature of this game rides on whether or not Frank Harris is under center for UTSA, but this shouldn’t be a game Tennessee should have any real chance of losing. I expect a full rebound here before they welcome South Carolina to town.

This is a big game for Joe Milton. He needs to rebuild some confidence and get on the same page with these receivers. Defensively, the big plays have to stop. I expect a big game from the defensive front.

Craig: Tennessee 37, UTSA 23.

Tennessee comes out sleepy, but the ground game and a few chunk plays in the passing game push the Vols ahead by enough to keep the UT faithful from having to go through a cardiac fourth quarter. So far this 2023 team looks like a shell of what the 2022 one was, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now would be a great time to change my mind before conference play really gets rolling.

Christian: Tennessee 41, UTSA 17.

There’s nothing less exciting than playing a conference night game on the road and then pivoting to what should be a tune up game at home, but that’s exactly what we have here. Not only is this game a “must win” for Tennessee but I think they also need to show some things on the offensive end to quiet some skepticism, at least for another week.

I’m putting on my optimistic hat and saying that the Tennessee offense clicks early with some chunk plays - most likely on the ground - that loosen things up for the rest of the game. Also expecting the defense to bounce back after a horrific performance against Florida, especially in the first half.

Will this be the first full game Tennessee shows up for? I hope so. If not, they deserve every bit of criticism/skepticism they receive.