No. 15 Tennessee (2-0) returns home for a final out-of-conference game against the Akron Zips (1-1) before its SEC slate begins with Florida the following week. Here is everything you need to know about the Vols Week 3 matchup.
The Vols are coming off a massive 34-27 overtime win against a ranked Pittsburgh team on the road. Tennessee looked shaky out of the gates failing to score on its first three offensive possessions but stabilized in the second quarter. The defense struggled off the jump but bounced back with huge stops down the stretch including an overtime stand.
Hendon Hooker brought home SEC Offensive Player of the Week for his role in the victory. Hooker finished with 325 yards through the air with two passing scores. On the ground, he finished with 27 yards.
Hooker’s favorite target was Cedric Tillman as he looked Tillman’s way for the majority of the second half. Tillman finished with nine receptions for 162 yards and the overtime touchdown. Jalin Hyatt also got his fair share of targets catching 11 balls for 73 yards. Bru McCoy was quiet in many parts of the game due to Hooker’s focus on Tillman and Hyatt but still brought in four balls for 58 yards and a touchdown.
On the ground, Jaylen Wright led the team in rushing with 47 yards on nine carries. However, after losing a fumble he saw his night come to an end. Jabari Small couldn’t get it going for a majority of the game with just 17 yards on 10 carries but he still was able to punch it in for two touchdowns.
Defensively, Aaron Beasley put together one of his best games in orange and white with 14 tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass deflection and three quarterback hurries. Trevon Flowers also put together a solid game despite low moments with a crucial first quarter interception and overtime sack. Byron Young and Tyler Baron sealed the edges combining for eight tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries. Baron also forced a fumble and Young brought home SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.
Overall, the Vols looked rough at points but still came out with a win. It is unlike the Vols to get off to a slow start, but still finding a way to win shows the ceiling of the team. Unlike Tennessee teams of the past, when things don’t go their way, they’re still able to fight out of the hole and come away with big wins.
The Zips are off to a 1-1 start with a win over St. Francis (PA) in overtime and a blowout 52-0 loss to No. 14 Michigan State. Against the Spartans, Akron played two quarterbacks due to DJ Irons’ injury. Neither could find the endzone in the shutout. However, both players kept the ball safe in the air without throwing a pick. Jeff Undercuffler Jr. did fumble twice, though.
Irons and Undercuffler spread out their pass attack with 10 receivers catching at least one pass for a total of 203 yards. Daniel George was the leading wideout with four catches for 44 yards. The Zips’ best wideout is Shocky Jacques-Louis but he finished with just 31 yards.
On the ground, Irons was the most effective rusher scrambling for 30 yards. Running back Cam Wiley also finished with 30 yards off 10 carriers as the featured back.
Defensively, the Zips couldn’t contain the Spartans’ attack giving up 52 points while forcing just three punts against a Michigan State team that played a lot of backups. They were able to force two interceptions off the Spartans’ starting quarterback, though. However, they were only able to get to the quarterback for one sack.
Overall, the Zips looked overmatched against a solid Michigan State team. Nothing jumped off the page as they struggled to keep their head above water. On offense, they were unable to score a single poin. On defense, they let Michigan State do whatever they wanted on the ground and through the air.
Vols vs. Zips history
The two programs have a short history of matchups. Only a pair of games have been played between the teams leading into Saturday’s affair.
The first came in 1989 when Tennessee routed Akron in a 52-9 win. The teams wouldn’t meet again until 2012 when the Vols won 47-26. Both games were played in Knoxville.
Against other teams in the MAC, the Vols post a 9-0 record in the school’s history including a win over Ball State to open this season.
5 Key Goals to the Game
Tennessee shouldn’t see much resistance in the matchup with Akron. Due to this, my key goals will not be what it takes for the Vols to win but what it would take for me to consider the game a success.
Don’t give up a touchdown
Akron is coming off a game against another top-15 team where they were unable to put up any points. I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that Tennessee could also keep the Zips out of the endzone. It’s one thing if Akron kicks a field goal, but letting them enter the checkerboards would be less than ideal.
Tennessee boasts itself as one of the most effective offenses in college football. To prove this, the Vols can’t give away the ball to an overmatched Akron defense. Tennessee has done a good job so far this season but the reserves may need to iron things out.
Stay perfect on special teams
Against Pitt, Tennessee let up a blocked punt and muffed a punt themself. This needs to be ironed out in the game against Akron. Any kicks within 50-yards need to continue to be knocked down and the punt team needs to give Paxton Brooks protection to get kicks off. The returners cannot fumble and give free possessions to the opposition. The game against the Zips is the perfect time to gain confidence in this area going forward.
Give freshmen ample playtime
Tennessee did a good job of incorporating freshmen against Ball State in the opener. This needs to continue. Playing the younger players in these games builds confidence and gives them valuable experience going forward. Players such as Joshua Josephs and Squirrel White could be key contributors later in the year and these games are great ways for them to prove they’re ready.
The biggest key to the game is not to come away with any big injuries before hosting Florida. The starters need to get off to a quick and safe start putting them in a position to come off the field sooner rather than later. Any injuries to key contributors could play a big difference going forward for the rest of the season.
This game should get ugly quickly.
Akron is a worse football team than Ball State and the Vols pummeled the Cardinals in Week 1. The Zips proved to be an inferior opponent to quality football teams in their matchup with Michigan State. Although the Spartans dominated, Tennessee may do even more damage.
I expect Hooker to account for three early touchdowns on a combination of through the air and ground. Small and Wright will also get a large load of carries as they rumble through the weak Akron defense. Tillman, McCoy and Hyatt will start the game strong before being replaced by reserves.
The defense will continue the momentum from their strong performance at Pitt and shut down the Akron attack. The Zips will struggle to get the ball past midfield and never find the endzone. Multiple turnovers will be forced through interceptions and fumbles as the quarterback will be under pressure for the entire game.
Tennessee – 56
Akron – 6
Game Time and Coverage
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. in Knoxville, Tenn. at Neyland Stadium. The game airs on SECN+ and ESPN+ and TNJN will have more coverage following the game.
Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org