Photo Credit: Kate Luffman/ Tennessee Athletics
By Griffin Hadley
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 9 ranked Tennessee Volunteers came out victorious in their home opener against the Austin Peay Governors 30-13. The Vols bested Austin Peay by 17, but not before a sluggish offensive performance in the first half.
Mother nature decided to add to the suspense as the contest between the Vols and Governors was delayed for inclement weather just thirteen minutes prior to kickoff.
After the 30-minute weather delay Austin Peay came out swinging, pulling out all the stops. After a drive featuring a 45-yard scramble from quarterback Mike DiLiello the Governors converted for an early field goal and a three-point lead.
The Governor’s offense featured some tomfoolery early on trying their hand at several different formations and play calls. This early energy gave Austin Peay a chance to stay in the game as they were able to take the lead on two occasions throughout the first half.
However, the overarching storyline was the Tennessee offensive attack. Rather, the struggle for the Tennessee offense to find any sort of attack.
“Offensively it’s consistency and effectiveness, it takes eleven guys to operate and there were times tonight where we were one or two off,” Head Coach Josh Heupel said postgame.
The Vols first four drives unfolded in the following way: punt, punt, field goal, turnover on downs. Not the most ideal start for the ninth best team in the country known for their offensive prowess.
The wide receiver group struggled as there was a surplus of drops and penalties to go around. Joe Milton struggled to find his guys early and when he did the Tennessee wide outs struggled to convert.
Bru McCoy struggled to reel in a dart across the middle and it seemed that play would set the trend for the remainder of the first half. In the first quarter Milton was just one for seven with a measly eleven yards through the air.
“There were some [plays] in the middle of the football field that were wide open, and we did not execute,” Heupel said.
The Vols caught several breaks including a muffed punt and recovery inside the Austin Peay 30 yd-line, however they were unable to covert and settled for three.
Jabari Small broke through for 38 yards one Tennessee’s fourth drive of the game but two penalties on the wide receiver group halted the drive. It seemed every time the Vols got a boost the energy was zapped away on the following play.
The Tennessee offense joined a day filled with slow starts. The two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs were scoreless against Ball State in the first quarter and UT caught the bug struggling to find the end zone in the first 29 minutes of action.
Although the offense struggled heavily throughout the first 30 minutes of action, the Tennessee defense kept the Austin Peay offense from finding the end zone.
Sacks from Aaron Beasley and Kurott Garland were momentum shifters on two different Governor drives. The Tennessee front seven continued to impress, building on their week one success.
Joe Milton was able to find the end zone with 15 seconds remaining in the first half and momentum flipped heading into the locker room. The Tennessee offense found a groove at the beginning of the third and was able to separate from the Governors.
Milton was able to orchestrate a 90 second drive that ended in a Ramel Keyton five-yard grab. However, the third quarter wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows as the Keyton score was the only touchdown of the quarter.
The Tennessee defense continued to play at a high level throughout the second half, highlighted by an interception from Kamal Hadden. The Vols added pressure, but the Governors refused to go away, converting for a 52-yard touchdown catch and run.
The Tennessee offense was hot-cold in the second half, being able to convert when needed but also failing to move the ball downfield. Joe Milton found McCallan Castles for a 45-yard touchdown in the fourth but not after going three and out on multiple occasions.
Vols as the offense was unable to convert on third and fourth down for majority of the contest. Tennessee was three for twelve on third down and failed to convert their lone fourth down attempt.
“Urgency and how we come back tomorrow afternoon and Monday is absolutely crucial for us,” Heupel said.
Ultimately Josh Heupel and the company will have plenty to talk about this coming Monday in preparation for week three.
Tennessee (2-0, 0-0 SEC) will take to the road next week as they travel to Gainsville to face the Florida Gators. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. EST and can be viewed on ESPN. The Vols will be looking to leave The Swamp victorious for the first time since 2003.