By Jime Steele
As I was watching Tennessee sleepwalk to an unimpressive victory of former Ohio Valley Conference member Austin Peay, I found myself regressing.
Was this the explosive team of Josh Heupel or the drowsy offensive disaster that was Jeremy Pruitt’s rendition of Tennessee football?
I began to wonder. Austin Peay, a team that was bludgeoned by Southern Illinois last week (the Salukis led after three quarters 41-3 over these very same Governors in Carbondale) was hanging with the purported No. 9 team in Division 1 football. And Austin Peay had chances.
Yeah, I heard a lot of the pre-game stuff. The weather delay, the team didn’t run through the T as a result, the different uniforms, etc., etc. I suppose the weather and the pre-game pomp and circumstance disappointment could have been a let down, but this is an elite team … allegedly.
Give AP credit. It pulled out all the stops and took the lead in the Vols’ home opener. Again, a team that was humbled by 1-AA SIU a week ago, was pressing Tennessee. Sure, the Vols managed a ho-hum 30-13 victory, but it appeared that the Vols were basking in the glow of the positive press they had received going into this season instead of focusing on an AP team with absolutely nothing to lose.
And let’s be honest, early on, the Govs pulled out all the stops. The gadgeted and gimmicked Tennessee up one sideline and down the other. Okay, so maybe the Vols didn’t see any of this on film, fine. But Tennessee supposedly has superior athletes. This shouldn’t have been that big a deal after it had already seen the weird formation once.
But Austin Peay outmuscled the Vols on the line for much of the day. Joe Milton, who I thought was past his overzealous woes, appears to be in retrograde. He completed only one of his first eight passes and for much of the day, he was throwing behind receivers. Either Milton or his receivers were out of sync. I think I know the answer to that question. The Vols never went deep on the Govs, either.
There were far too many three-and-outs, far too many turnovers, far too many dropped passes and far too many stupid penalties. Milton threw for over 200 yards, but Austin Peay threw for nearly 260. How many times did the Vols’ bog down in the red zone and settle for field goals?
I wondered if I had awakened from a wonderful dream only to find that Jeremy Pruitt was back on the sideline.
Give credit to the Vol defense. It bent, but didn’t break. AP was able to scare up 13 points, but let’s be honest, it could have been a whole lot worse. The defense showed up Saturday.
Was this an uninspired effort by a team that was overconfident and looking ahead to Florida, or are there real reasons to worry? Keep in mind that a trip to Florida is next and the Swamp has been a treacherous place for Tennessee. Even when Florida was led by the likes of Ron Zook, Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain and Dan Mullen, Tennessee struggled. When Florida has been down, Tennessee has found a way to lose in Gainesville.
Keep in mind, Tennessee has won in the Swamp three times since 1971 and it hasn’t happened since 2003.
If what we saw in Nashville against Virginia was not the real barometer and the effort against Austin Peay was more indicative of what folks can expect, this could be a harbinger of doom.
Yeah, the Gators have limped into 2023 and have been unimpressive, but you can’t count on them falling apart at the feet of the Big Orange. That’s not going to happen.
Tennessee needs to quit reading Twitter, watching YouTube and all the other social media platforms that trumpet how great its football team is and focus on the task at hand at practice this week.
For this team, there are no laurels to rest on. Thank the good lord Southern Illinois isn’t on the schedule.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing. email@example.com