After a smooth start in Music City, No. 9 Tennessee returns to Rocky Top for Saturday’s home opener against Austin Peay in Knoxville.
“Looking forward to seeing 102,000 of our closest friends,” Volunteers coach Josh Heupel said. “For our program, it has been a long time since we have been inside that stadium with our fans, and we look forward to that.”
The Volunteers (1-0) kicked off the season with a 49-13 win against Virginia in Nashville last Saturday, the same day the Governors (0-1) were handed a 49-23 defeat at Southern Illinois.
Tennessee’s Joe Milton III, the SEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week, passed for two touchdowns and rushed for two more against the Cavaliers. Jaylen Wright ran for 115 yards and Dylan Sampson scored three rushing TDs as the Volunteers outgained Virginia 499-201.
Special teams was perhaps the biggest concern this week after Josh Turbyville booted two kickoffs out of bounds and Dee Williams fumbled a punt return against Virginia.
“All in all, I thought they performed well,” Heupel said. “There were some things early in the football game that everybody saw. We were not quite in sync. We’re not far off, either. I anticipate us continuing to grow and shore those things up.”
Austin Peay, an FCS member of the new United Athletic Conference, finished 7-4 last season but was outclassed by the Salukis in Week 1. The Governors trailed 28-0 at halftime and 42-3 entering the fourth quarter before Mike DiLiello threw a couple of touchdown passes.
Austin Peay turned it over three times, including an interception returned for a touchdown, and managed only 39 rushing yards on 23 carries. SIU outgained Austin Peay by a 432-253 margin and had a 15:20 advantage in time of possession.
“It starts with me,” Governors coach Scotty Walden said. “I want to apologize to Gov nation, our fan base, our school. This place deserves better and we’re going to give them better every week.”
DiLiello passed for 2,480 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 446 yards and eight scores last season, when Austin Peay posted games with 38, 41, 52 and 63 points.
“Defensively, (we) have to handle tempo,” Heupel said of the Governors. “They will spread the football field, RPO game. We have to do a really good job on perimeter screens, defeat blocks and make tackles in space. The line of scrimmage will be everything for us.”
Volunteers receiver Squirrel White left with an injury in the second half against Virginia but Heupel said he could have returned if necessary. Tennessee played without starting center Cooper Mays and defensive lineman Elijah Simmons and their status for Saturday is unclear.
Tennessee thumped Austin Peay 45-0 on Aug. 31, 2013, in the only previous meeting between the programs.
Tennessee will unveil its new “Artful Dodger” Smokey Grey uniforms on Saturday to honor trailblazing Volunteers quarterback Condredge Holloway, the first Black player to start under center for an SEC program. From 1972-74, he guided UT to a 25-9-2 record as a starter while passing for 3,102 yards and rushing for 966.
–Field Level Media