The Tennessee Volunteers lived on the edge once again. It’s what they do. They do it every year. Even the 1998 national championship team lived on the edge a lot.
By Matt Zemek
Recall the Florida overtime battle, the Clint Stoerner fumble against Arkansas, the uncomfortably close SEC Championship Game against Mississippi State – they were all very difficult battles. Since then, in years good and bad, Vol football always seems to live in the world of anxiety and late-stage tension. Last year’s team ended its journey with an overtime game in the Music City Bowl. This year’s team played an overtime contest in its first big confrontation with a decent team, the Pittsburgh Panthers. Some will say the Vols got lucky in their 34-27 triumph, given the injury to Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis, but the Vols didn’t make the most of good fortune in the Music City Bowl against Purdue or in other moments of opportunity last year.
Being lucky isn’t a problem. Failing to make use of good luck is. For once, the Vols took the gift, said thank you, and made use of their window of opportunity. Now they face the Akron Zips, coached by former Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead, who is best known in college football circles for helping James Franklin save his job at Penn State in 2016. Let’s look at what Tennessee needs to do in a game which won’t be remotely close.
1 – Backups
First of all, the overtime game against Pitt was draining for everyone. Therefore, before facing Florida in Week 4, UT and Josh Heupel need to make this game as easy as possible for the starters. Get one and a half, maybe two, quarters of focused effort and then hand over the second half to second stringers. It’s not an idle week, but this game needs to be minimally stressful for everyone. Fill up the fuel tank for the Gators.
2 – Run the ball
Shorten the game. Reduce strain on the whole roster. Get that defense fresh by keeping it off the field. Akron is a very physically weak team. Michigan State threw the Zips around like a rag doll. The Spartans absolutely obliterated their undermanned opponent, and Tennessee should be able to do the same. The Vols will not need to go deep into their playbook, and moreover, they shouldn’t. They don’t want to give Billy Napier and the Gators anything interesting to look at on film.
3 – Edge discipline on defense
The Vols have to start preparing for Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. This game needs to be a practice session in which Tennessee linebackers, defensive ends, and safeties all pay attention to containment of the quarterback and staying with their assignments. Akron won’t test Tennessee, but the Vols can test themselves and make sure they’re learning what they need to learn.