Tennessee (1-1) will host Tennessee Tech (0-2) for what should be a tuneup game before SEC play kicks off with a week four trip to Gainesville. While this game does not likely bring the intrigue that last week's Johnny Major's Classic did, but there is still plenty to watch in this matchup. We take a look at several things we will keep a close eye on here.
How healthy is Tennessee?
Josh Heupel's team has been hit with injuries and absences since the start of fall camp, and they need to be at full strength before SEC play. It is safe to assume that Tennessee will take it easy with several of their key players in this one, but we will see. Jalin Hyatt left last week after his head slammed to the ground while trying to catch a pass from Joe Milton. He is likely able to play, but the question remains if Tennessee will get him a few reps. Cooper Mays left the Bowling Green game with an ankle injury, and the Vols missed him in the center spot last week. The Vols do not need Mays to beat Tennessee Tech, but that unit needs to become more cohesive before Florida, so if he is able, will he get a drive or two. There has been no real update on Jabari Small, who left with a shoulder injury last week. The Vols should have Tiyon Evans back this week, but they need Small alongside him in SEC play. We will see who plays, how they look pre-game if they don't play, and who else might be nicked up.
This goes without saying, right? Is Joe Milton III healthy? Who starts this week> How many of these guys get reps? Regardless of the answer to any of these questions, Tennessee has to air it out early and often and do so efficiently. The Vols need to settle on a quarterback before Florida. There is no way to play quarterback roulette and win in the SEC. Joe Milton has struggled early, but the believe from this staff is evident. Hendon Hooker kept Tennessee in the game last week with his play, but he made two costly turnovers. We have yet to see Harrison Bailey, so will that change tomorrow. There are arguments that Bailey does not fit the playbook, but Tennessee has only had a handful of designed runs with Milton III behind center, keeping the focus on attacking vertically. If Tennessee wants to stick with this, Bailey likely fits this more than Hooker. They split reps early in the week, but it will be game-time before we know who gets the start.
Can the defense force a turnover?
Tennessee has yet to force a turnover, and that has to change on Saturday against a far inferior opponent. The Vols should have no issue controlling the line of scrimmage, and the secondary needs to capitalize on the excellent position that Tim Banks has continued to put them in. The Golden Eagles are averaging seven points per game coming into this one. Tennessee very well could pitch a shutout, but they have to force more than one turnover, in our opinion.
Will Mike Ekeler's special teams unit build on their early success?
We touched on this unit early in the year, and it has lived up to the hype so far. Mike Ekeler is as good as it gets as a special teams coach. Tennessee has blocked a punt, been superb in kickoff coverage and flipped the field when they have had to punt. Ekeler's unit is only missing a scoring play, despite having a 108-yard kick six called back against Pitt. This week should be another dominant week for this group.
How much work do the reserves get?
This goes without saying, but Tennessee has to create depth. They did not go deep into the roster through the first two weeks. They need to have as many guys play as possible on Saturday. They need to see Dee Beckwith, Miles Campbell, Julian Nixon, Aaron Willis, Andison Coby, etc. You get the point, but Tennessee needs to put this one away early and let these guys get work and build confidence.