By: The All Vol Call in Show Staff
Let's not beat around the bush; last week was awful. Everything went about as bad as it could have. Murphy's Law was in full effect. The defense looked bad, the offense looked bad, and the result looked bad. In what felt like Tennessee's best chance to win in the Swamp in 20 years, the team fell on its face. However, it's only one game of the season, and if you somehow manage to take care of business from this point on, all will likely be forgiven and this game will be nothing more than a bad memory of what could have been. It's on to the UTSA Roadrunners, and back home to the great cathedral: Neyland Stadium.
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I will be dealing with the Florida loss for the remainder of the season; that's just how much that game means to me personally. However, that doesn't mean that I've given up hope, or that I think they're going to have a bad season, it just means that I can identify and acknowledge that there are still a lot of things that Tennessee is going to have to clean up before they get to the big boys. This match up with UTSA is one of two "gimme" games left on the schedule (UConn), and with some of the performances from the Vols this season, even those don't feel like "gimme" games anymore.
There is clearly something wrong on both sides of the ball, but that's why the university pays Josh Heupel a lot of money; to figure those problems out. Can he? I think he can and does. This week will be the first week we see Tennessee firing on all cylinders. Why? Because they have to. They have no choice but to clean up the problems in this game, because it doesn't get any easier from here. Heupel isn't tone deaf, and understands that Tennessee is a "win now" school. He is by NO MEANS on the "hot seat," but if progress isn't made soon, there will soon be questions about his ability to surround himself with the proper staff. It's time to get back to what Tennessee does best under Heupel; speed and efficiency. Tennessee rolls big, because they have to.
Prediction: Tennessee - 52 | UTSA - 17
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Last week, I had faith in Josh Heupel's coaching and said I would give him the benefit of the doubt. After Saturday, I can no longer do that. While this isn't personal, it's clear that Joe Milton may not have what it takes for Tennessee to reach its potential, and it's time to consider Nico Iamaleava.
I still believe in Coach Heupel, but the concerns are mounting. The team's performance last Saturday showed signs of poor coaching, as evident in the need to burn two timeouts right after halftime. At this juncture, I do not have confidence in the offense to blow out UTSA as it should. It is not too late to turn things around, but the coaching staff and the players need to act fast as
that window could promptly close.
Prediction: Tennessee - 17 | UTSA - 9
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I think I have picked Tennessee to score at least 40 every week so far. If you fooled me, can’t get fooled again. This team has sleepwalked itself through two wins and an embarrassing loss last week in The Swamp. Even I am losing some faith in this team’s ceiling.
Frank Harris is doubtful to play in this game, so hopefully the defense gets a hold of Eddie Lee Marburger and the Roadrunner offense sooner than later. If the do-it-all signal caller does start, look for the Vols to be a bit more aggressive. Tim Banks was too passive in his approach and it cost him dearly. The secondary needs to make some plays this week or it could be Austin Peay all over again.
Offensively, Joe Milton III and the whole unit need to get in gear. We have not seen the tempo or vertical choice routes for which Josh Heupel is known and it is hurting this team’s chances of winning important games down the line. With Nico Iamaleava waiting in the wings, Milton needs to show the world why he is head and shoulders above the five-star freshman. Jabari Small and Dylan Sampson need to pull their own weight toting the rock. Last (and hopefully not least this week), the offensive line needs to do their job. Improvement is necessary, but possible. 30+ should be reasonable.
Prediction: Tennessee - 38 | UTSA - 24
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Last week was terrible. Play calling was abysmal, the defense was nonexistent in the first half, and the offensive line was bad. Joe Milton was less-than-stellar, but did what was asked of him. I have so many questions heading into week four. I’ll know more after Saturday. Tennessee wins this one. Prediction: Tennessee - 31 | UTSA - 10
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Last week was bad. At first, I thought the majority of the offensive blame came from the offensive line, but the more I dove into it, the more it seemed like Joe Milton may have been the majority of the issue. Hopefully this week, against a lower tier team, Milton can clean up some of the things he's been lacking in, and the offense as a whole can do the same. They're running out of opportunities.
Prediction: Tennessee - 35 | UTSA - 14
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This is a bit of a weird spot for Tennessee. The meat of the SEC slate still hasn’t arrived, yet the Vols already find themselves needing a get-right game after a slow start to the season. I have a lot of respect for the UTSA program, which has cemented itself as one of the nation’s best G5 programs after posting back-to-back 11 win seasons.
The Roadrunners have a situation at QB where the talented Frank Harris appears to be a game-time decision as he battles a turf toe injury. I believe the main edge he could provide against this defense is his running ability. The Vols have often struggled to contain running QB’s, and Harris has nearly 2,000 rushing yards in his career.
The Vol offense needs to re-establish trust and confidence after a few rough outings. The O-line has glaring weaknesses, and Joe Milton hasn’t showed strengths (pocket awareness, elusiveness, ability to throw on the run, etc.) that could mask those weaknesses. Thankfully, the running game has been effective against less talented competition so far.
I think this could be a game where the Vols play well, yet it doesn’t show up in a big way on the scoreboard. UTSA is a legitimately good program, and if Frank Harris plays (and I think he will) they may have a chance to stick around in this game for awhile. I think the Vols will do enough to put the game out of reach by the end but the score won’t indicate a total blowout. There is a universe though where it is a three-point game in the fourth quarter, and if that happens, it might be a good week to stay off social media.
Prediction: Tennessee - 38 | UTSA - 20
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Get your Acme rocket roller skates ready. Saturday Tennessee plays the UTSA Roadrunners. Tennessee will win this game because they're bigger and faster than UTSA. Let's get that out of the way.
But, what's important is Tennessee needs to right the ship. The Vols haven't looked fantastic at any point of the season. They have to figure out who they are and what they can do well and do it fast. Already 0-1 in conference play, the Vols have this moment to try to get the blocking schemes working, clean up the pre-snap problems that were back breaking at Florida, and truly develop a downfield attack that is down twelve percent in usage from 2022. Taking the top off the defense will open up some running lanes and help the line by backing the 2nd and 3rd levels of the defense off a little bit. Joe Milton hasn't been great but he needs time to do more than throw screens or hand the ball off.
UTSA QB Frank Harris has been nursing a turf toe and is listed as a game time decision. If he doesn't play, this game is over before it starts. If he does play he can cause some problems for a much maligned Tennessee secondary. Not enough to cause a Ga State moment but enough to keep Milton on the field deep in the game.
The Vols win Saturday but this game is not about Saturday. It's about figuring out the rest of the season. With games against South Carolina, Texas A&M, and Alabama lined up in the next 4 weeks, if the Vols continue to play like they did at Florida, this could be the last Tennessee victory for a few weeks.
Prediction: Tennessee - 49 | UTSA - 17