It's Football Time in Tennessee: #9 Vols vs. Austin Peay (9/9/23)
Recently: Tennessee faithful packed Nissan Stadium in Nashville to see the Vols rip into Virginia 49-10. Fans waited all off-season to see the leadership and arm strength of Joe Milton on display, but it was the Tennessee running game and the dominance of UT's front 7 on defense that really stole the show.
Meanwhile, Austin Peay was blown out by Southern Illinois 49-23 in a game that wasn't even as close as the score indicates, as 20 of the Govs' points came in garbage time.
Previously on Vols vs. Governors: Tennessee and Austin Peay have met only once, a 45-0 UT win in 2013. Historically, Tennessee did not play FCS/DI-AA teams, but times change, and I suppose it's foolish not to buy a win when all your rivals are doing the same. At least the paycheck is going to an in-state school, I guess.
THE FIVE FACTOR TRACKER
Here's how Tennessee's offense stacks up against Austin Peay's defense after one week of the season:
There's no way to spin this, Austin Peay is pretty bad. They'll likely finish middle-of-the-pack in a decent FCS conference, and their week one opponent, Southern Illinois, is one of the better teams in FCS. But after game one the numbers show that the Govs can't stop drives, can't create havoc, and allow the opponent to stay on schedule. And while all of those numbers are bad, that 55.8 starting field position for their defense might be most glaring--imagine giving Josh Heupel's offense the ball at midfield every drive. Tennessee will move the ball at will, and the Vols can name the score pretty much whenever they want.
And defensively for the Vols against Austin Peay's offense:
Pretty much the same story for APSU's offense. They can't create scoring opportunities, they can't get ahead of the chains, and over 1/3 of their plays end in TFLs, sacks, PBUs, or turnovers. That explosiveness rate is pretty good, but when only 14% of your plays are successful, the explosiveness doesn't really matter.
Prediction: Tennessee wins easy. That's not in doubt. All you really want to see happen Saturday is for Tennessee to play sharp football. You know how sometimes a batter comes out of the All-Star break in a slump because he took huge swings at meatball pitches in the home-run derby? That's what Josh Heupel and the Vols need to avoid. It will be an easy day for UT, but with a trip to the Swamp on deck for the Vols, a sloppy, unfocused day of football would be the worst-case scenario here.
Extraneous: There is a hierarchy when it comes to team nicknames/mascots. In the bottom tiers are the commons: Bulldogs, Tigers, Wildcats. These are all trash mascots, you'd get more creative results if you dusted off your PS2, fired up NCAA '03, went into Create-a-Team mode, and clicked "random." There's a tier right above that with fairly pedestrian nicknames like Eagles and Bears--but these are often dressed up with modifiers (e.g. Golden Eagles) or more exotic versions (i.e. Bruins instead of Bears).
And in the top tier are the colleges with truly unique nicknames: Sun Devils, Jayhawks, Cornhuskers. But even the unique mascots are scored on a gradient: yes, Gators is a fitting name for Florida, but it could have just as easy been any school in that state, or even LSU.
The very best are nicknames that incorporate the lore of the school, its history and location. This is why Volunteers is the perfect nickname; it's not only unique, it works specifically and exclusively for the flagship institution of the Volunteer state. Everything about UT is objectively superior because it is organic--from the checkerboard endzones being a nod to Ayers Hall to the colors being patterned after flowers that grew exclusively on the Hill. While other schools manufacture waterways for fans to tailgate on, the Vol Navy exists because broadcaster George Mooney wanted a shortcut to the stadium, and because eons ago God Himself orchestrated glacial melt to ensure our campus would exist just a few miles below the confluence of the Holston and the French Broad.
But I digress.
The only in-state school nickname that comes close to the perfection of Volunteers is Governors. Austin Peay, named for the 35th governor of Tennessee, honors their namesake with not only the name of their athletic teams, but with the logo that I cannot look at without hearing Ace Ventura quipping you must be… the Monopoly guy!
You might say the same is true about Commodores being a nod to the school's namesake, but, truth be told, George Peabody wasn't even in the navy. UTC had a top-tier nickname in Moccasins--as a tribute to Moccasin Bend, where the Tennessee River winds its way trough the city--but dropped it for the inferior abbreviated Mocs--apparently a tribute to the 1990s, where both the name and logo appear perpetually stuck. The same can be said for UTM and Skyhawks.
However, the quality of the Governors nickname belies the quality of the school's facilities. Until sometime in the mid-90s, there was exactly one football stadium in the whole of Clarksville, Tennessee. Unfortunately, there were multiple football teams that needed a place to play--Austin Peay for sure, but also the local high schools: Northeast, Northwest, and Clarksville High; and they all played at Governors Stadium on the APSU campus. That's four teams sharing one field for a sport that is traditionally played on Friday and Saturday. Schedules had to be creative: maybe you played a varsity football game on Thursday, or Saturday if the Govs were out of town. If both teams were off the following week, you could maybe play Monday? Then, too, were the freshman games and the JV games, and I suppose middle schools might have used the field as well.
As a result of all that wear, the Governors Stadium turf became an abomination. Modern field turf hadn't been developed yet. It was the o.g. style of AstroTurf--if you happen to own a piece of Shields-Watkins Field that was sold as memorabilia when UT ripped out the old playing surface, it's undoubtedly in better shape than Austin Peay's turf was. There were quite literally bald patches in the field where the turf had worn clean through to the concrete underneath. All of the yard lines and hash marks had been painted and repainted so many times that the field had a varied topography: lines were actually raised, like speed bumps. It was a wildly dangerous surface to play on and had social media existed in 1990 I'm sure the field would've been condemned under public pressure and the APSU might've shuttered the program entirely, considering that in the late 90s the Govs left the OVC and made the program non-scholarship for about a decade.
As far as I know, the playing surface at Governors Stadium--now Fortera Stadium--is much improved. And I think they even fixed the sinkhole that opened up a while back, but maybe they can take the check they get from this beating and make a few more renovations.