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AVCIS predictions: Pittsburgh versus Tennessee, The Johnny Majors Classic

Graphic | John Dunn

Last Thursday night, the Tennessee Volunteers left much to be desired against a sub-par Bowling Green team. After struggling in the second quarter, and failing to produce any points in the period, the Vols managed only 38 points, when it appeared that they were just a few plays short of potentially scoring well over 50.

First-year quarterback Joe Milton III completed only a few passes in the second half, leading to some lackluster numbers in the passing game. However, he also didn't throw a single interception (he did fumble once), and managed two rushing touchdowns as well.

All-in-all, Tennessee did what they were supposed to do, against a team that just wasn't as talented or athletic as they were; a stark contrast to some similar games over the last few seasons. (UMass, Charlotte, Appalachian State, Georgia State, etc.)

This week, the Pittsburgh Panthers travel to town, fresh off of a 51-7 victory over the UMass Minutemen. Umass is another team, much like Bowling Green, that has hovered around the lowest-tier of college football teams for the last few seasons, finding limited success on the field.

This week should be the first true test for each team in the early 2021 season.

John Dunn (Founder/Host/Managing Editor):

Tennessee did leave some things to be desired last week against Bowling Green, however, I expect a different passing offense this week against the Panthers. Joe Milton did some things that I don't expect him to do against better competition. I don't expect him to stand as flat-footed in the pocket, I don't expect him to hold the ball as long, and I don't expect him to miss as many open receivers.

I trust Heupel and this staff to quickly get Milton's passing game up-to-snuff, and attack the Pittsburgh secondary early and often on Saturday. Although Tiyon Evans appears to be out for this game, I also expect Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright to cause just as much trouble from the backfield. I was highly impressed with the Vols' rushing attack against the Falcons, even though Bowling Green spent most of the night in zone coverage, dropping eight defenders, while rushing only three.

What I saw from Pittsburgh was pretty much exactly what I saw from Tennessee; a team doing exactly what they were supposed to do, against a team that just wasn't as good as they were. I also consider UMass to be less competitive than Bowling Green. That being said, this game will come down to Joe Milton being able to open up the Tennessee offense with his arm. I do expect that to happen.

I don't want to make it sound like I'm drinking the orange kool-aid, but Pittsburgh also isn't the greatest team in college football. They are a great early-season opponent for Tennessee, and are an average to slightly-above-average team. I consider the two to be on fairly even footing. Factor in the Neyland factor that has been further fueled by Pat Narduzzi claiming that Neyland Stadium's crowd noise will be "no issue," I think that Tennessee takes this one into the fourth quarter, and wins it behind the leg of Chase McGrath.

Prediction: Tennessee - 31 | Pittsburgh - 28

Zac Strickland (Junior Staff Writer):

This weekend’s “Johnny Majors Classic” will be the first real test of the Josh Heupel era at Tennessee, and though it’s not necessarily a must-win game, it’s a good measuring stick of where the UT program currently stands. Pittsburgh is one of several good-but-not-great ACC teams that find themselves stuck behind Clemson in the conference pecking order.

Their offense is spearheaded by fourth-year starter Kenny Pickett, who has been steady in his role, although the team has struggled to run the ball as of late. But the true strength of this Panthers squad is probably the defense, which returns six starters from a unit that led the ACC last year in rush defense, sacks and interceptions.

That said, SEC speed is different, and the Vols have the raw talent to overwhelm Pitt when clicking on all cylinders. If both teams play their A game, Tennessee will win. This is a true coin-flip game, and the raucous Neyland Stadium crowd should be an advantage for the Vols.

In the past, I would usually give UT the benefit of the doubt in games such as these, but Pitt’s experience and established identity is something the Vols still don’t have yet. Ultimately, I trust them to play a complete, mistake-free game more than I trust Tennessee to do the same. I hope to be proven wrong.

Prediction: Pittsburgh - 31 | Tennessee - 27

Dallas Bowlin (Junior Staff Writer):

When this season is over, we could look back at this game as the moment the Vols found their groove and used it as a launching pad to a successful season. Or, it could be the moment that a downward trajectory began and Tennessee struggled to be competitive for the rest of the season.

Joe Milton and the Vols were a mixed bag vs. Bowling Green. Had Milton connected on the two deep balls that were overthrown, and they ended in a pair of touchdowns, that game is most likely viewed a lot differently by fans.

With that being said, Tennessee will need to be sharp and consistent to beat Pittsburgh, and I'm not sure they’re ready for that challenge.

Prediction: Pittsburgh - 35 | Tennessee - 21

Brandon Payne (Junior Staff Writer):

The Tennessee offense came out on fire last week and wowed in the running game. The passing game wasn’t as prevalent as I had expected, but Milton showed that he does indeed have a cannon, you just can’t guarantee where those shots will land. I look for the Vols to rely heavily on the running game against Pitt while peppering in the cannon fire from Milton.

Tennessee showed last week against Bowling Green that they could hold strong against the run, and that’s a good sign against a Pitt team that rushed for 223 itself last week. I look for Tennessee to play aggressive and attempt to keep The Panthers from getting anything going in the run game.

Tennessee, however, gave up almost 200 passing yards to a team without a strong passing defense, and Pitt threw for 375 against the same. The Panthers may decide to air it out over the Vols and completely abandon the running game.

Prediction: Pittsburgh - 42 | Tennessee - 27

Dylan Saylor (Senior Staff Writer):

It's a very intriguing week-two matchup in Neyland Stadium as the Pittsburgh Panthers come to town this Saturday. As usual, fans will have their eyes glued to the quarterback position, and they should. Can Joe Milton prove he’s elite enough against tougher opponents?

Everyone should keep their eyes on the running back group, after showing for 300+ against Bowling Green, can they keep performing at such a high level? Tyrion Evan’s is doubtful, so everyone in that position group will have to step up. If the Vols want to make it to a bowl game, this is a pivotal game.

Prediction: Tennessee - 28 | Pittsburgh - 25

William Allen (Senior Staff Writer):

This will be the first test of the season for two teams coming off of season opening wins. Tennessee Volunteers versus the Pittsburgh Panthers. Pittsburgh is currently a -3.5 favorite in Neyland Stadium. The Panthers return veteran quarterback Kenny Pickett, and eight starters on offense.

Defensively, they are replacing five defenders selected in the 2021 draft, but they aren’t showing any significant drop off. Michigan transfer quarterback Joe Milton III will need to find accuracy in Josh Heupel’s up-tempo spread offense for Tennessee to be successful, after only passing for 139 yards against Bowling Green.

The Panthers lead the all-time series 2-0, but the teams haven’t played since 1983 when Pitt won 13-3. This will be a big test for two evenly-matched teams.

Prediction: Tennessee - 30 | Pittsburgh - 27

Landon Hiter (Junior Staff Writer):

Josh Heupel gets his first real opponent this week in the Pittsburgh Panthers. Their defense will be a great challenge for Joe Milton and this Volunteer offense. I expect them to bring heavy pressure off the edge, and I honestly doubt this offensive line will be able to take it. They gave up three sacks last week to Bowling Green, and this Pittsburgh pass rush contains more athletic and versatile pass rushers compared to Bowling Green. Thus, I expect Milton to be sacked at least three times.

The Vols defense looked rocky in week-one against what most expected to be a horrible passing offense, but they were able to shut down arguably their most dynamic playmaker, Terion Stewart, holding him to less than two yards per carry, and also shutting down the rest of their run game as well. Tennessee could experience that same feeling this week with their lead back, Tiyon Evans, likely missing the game due to unknown reasons.

I expect this game to be high scoring and it is essentially all in Milton’s hands. If he can stay calm under pressure and not turn the ball over, then the Vols have a great chance to make this a competitive game, and possibly even win it.

Prediction: Pittsburgh - 42 | Tennessee - 17

Joe Davis (Junior Staff Writer):

The Pittsburgh Panthers come into Neyland Saturday for a game that is extremely important to both teams' possible bowl hopes. Pittsburgh and Tennessee are in oddly similar situations. Both the Vols and Panthers have struggled to stay above .500 the last decade.

Pittsburgh, like the Vols, blew-out an inferior opponent last weekend, UMass, but still have miles to go towards national relevance. Pittsburgh reminds me of South Carolina in a way. They haven't been good in a long, long, time but somehow manage to beat someone they shouldn't at least once a year.

The Vols have a lot of room to improve from last week's win over Bowling Green. If they can fix the drops at receiver, and tighten up the defense a little bit, the homefield should give Tennessee the advantage.

Prediction: Tennessee - 27 | Pittsburgh - 24

Darrell Winstead (Senior Staff Writer):

I don’t care about last week’s win, or what’s to come in the weeks ahead, for me, it’s all about this week and the Johnny Majors Classic versus Pittsburgh. Coach Majors was a legendary head coach for both of these teams during his career, leading Pittsburgh to a championship in 1976, and finishing as Tennessee’s second-winningest coach (116 wins).

The Panthers, who are coming off of a 51-7 blowout of UMass, are favored by a field goal over the Vols, who beat Bowling Green 38-6. This will be a much tougher contest for both teams than the cupcake teams they faced in week-one. The team that can limit their mistakes the best will likely be the winner.

Tennessee still has a lot to prove, and on a day that Coach Majors will be honored, I believe the Vols will be fired up and inspired. However, I don’t see that being enough for Tennessee to pull it out.

Prediction: Pittsburgh - 33 | Tennessee - 24


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