It’s Football Time In Tennessee: #23/20 Vols vs. UTSA Preview (9/23/23)

Recently: A week ago Tennessee went to…. Nope. Not doing it. SERENITY NOW 

Here's some recent stuff from the blog: the Five Factor Box Score for more on the Florida game and the Five Factor Tracker for an overview of the schedule. And the Top Plays over on YouTube:

There. No more on last week. Snap, crackle, pop, and clear. 

Meanwhile UTSA (1-2) has endured a rough start to their season. Coming into the year projected as one of the top G5 teams in America, the Roadrunners lost to Houston in week 1 and had a surprising loss to Army last week, with a win over Texas St. in between. 

Previously on Vols vs. Roadrunners: This is the first meeting between the schools, as the Roadrunners just started playing football 13 years ago. Tennessee is 44-4 all-time against current members of the AAC. UTSA is 3-0 all-time inside the Volunteer state, winning twice in Murfreesboro against MTSU and once in Memphis against the Tigers.  


Tennessee Offense vs. UTSA Defense

Statistically UT couldn’t ask for much more here. This game is a perfect opportunity for the Vols' offense to start firing on all--or at least more--cylinders. UTSA head coach Jeff Traylor preaches a "Triangle of Toughness" approach: run the ball, be physical on defense, and play sound special teams. The defensive physicality isn't translating as of yet, with the Roadrunners appearing in the red in almost all of the five factors for the year--they're giving up scoring opportunities, letting opponents stay on schedule, and while they have registered 21 TFLs and 10 sacks so far this year, it's not equating to a high percentage of havoc plays (in part because they haven't created a single turnover all year--in fact, UTSA is -5 in turnover margin this season). Sophomore Trey Moore leads with 5 TFLs and 4 sacks, but the overall tackle leader (17 total) is Martavius French, a Memphis native who started his career at UT in 2020 before transferring out. As far as "sound special teams," UTSA has their own punter from down under, Lucas Dean, who averages 42.7 per kick, but it's not translating to great starting field position for the Roadrunners' defense. 

Tennessee Defense vs. UTSA Offense

The "Triangle of Toughness" mantra for UTSA's offense is run the ball (this was also Sandra Bullock's advice in The Blind Side, if you recall). The Roadrunners have been thoroughly mediocre running the ball so far this year (67th out of 133 FBS teams), in part because their dual-purpose QB Frank Harris has been injured (he's listed as a gametime decision for Saturday, just like Cooper Mays is for Tennessee--can we just stop asking coaches this question, they're not going to give real answers). If Harris plays, the task will be much more difficult for the Vols because of his athleticism. In fact, despite the ugly numbers above, UTSA does have a good number of legit athletes and should be a true test for Tennessee's defense. Along with Harris, UTSA has WRs Joshua Cephus (82.3 yds/gm) and Tykee Ogle-Kellog, a former 3A Mr. Football in Tennessee that played for Alcoa. They also have an athletic TE, Oscar Cardenas, who can create matchup problems. 

Prediction: In theory, this should be easy. Should be. In theory. But as Homer Simpson said, "communism works in theory. In theory." If you want to lean into your BVS, then go off, you've got plenty to work with. Running QB? Check. Underdog with nothing to lose? Check. At least decently well-coached? Check. Sandwiched between big conference games? Check. Anxious fan base? Check. They've never lost in Tennessee! They've got two Tennessee natives on the team and they're both big contributors! Check, check. 

For all the reasons you can come up with for why UTSA could come to Neyland and pull off an upset, the truth is Tennessee is vastly more talented than the Roadrunners are. Now, the same could be said for Tennessee and Austin Peay, and that game was super uncomfortable. But realistically, the Austin Peay game was never in doubt. UT could, and did, just take points at every opportunity and knew the Govs would never be able to score enough. Tennessee got out of that day by slow-bleeding a win out of a poor performance. And then another poor performance in the Swamp, and now? This fanbase needs something to feel good about. There was so much excitement coming into this season. And if the team doesn't quite live up to the W-L record, that's tenable, as long as they're fun to watch. In 2021 UT went 7-5 but were just enjoyable to watch. They haven't been fun to watch this year. We can debate the root cause of that all day, but it really doesn't matter. We as fans, are just desperate to see it fixed. There's an opportunity for that on Saturday. Tennessee will win. Will they be fun to watch? I sure hope so. Will they cover the 21-point spread? They should, in theory. In theory


Extraneous: Legend says that Davy Crockett, upon losing his seat in the U.S. Congress, declared "You all may go to hell and I will go to Texas." Legend further has it that a loyal military unit known as the "Tennessee Mounted Volunteers" followed Crockett to the Lone Star State and later fought and died alongside him at the Alamo. In reality, paperwork shows that Crockett enlisted with a volunteer regiment of Texans and that his natural leadership soon found him up the chain of command before giving his life at the San Antonio mission. Either way, Tennessee and San Antonio are forever linked by the bravery of one of the greatest Volunteers of all time. For the record, I prefer Legend, and I prefer my Crockett to sound like John Wayne: 

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