Saturday’s game between BYU and Tennessee marks the first time these two storied program’s have met on the gridiron as the Cougars travel to SEC country to take on the Vols inside Neyland Stadium — one of the most iconic stadiums in the country.
That’s why it’s no surprise that many Cougar fans will be in attendance as BYU sold its entire allotment of tickets last month, with an additional 3,500 tickets being sold via the BYU alumni association.
Although it’s just the second game of the season, Saturday’s showdown seems like a must-win situation for both programs as they seek their first win on the year. With games against USC and No. 14 Washington looming over the next two weeks, BYU is not only looking to bounce back from last week’s loss to No. 13 Utah, but looks to get some momentum going and avoid what could be a disastrous 0-4 start to the season.
For Tennessee, the program is coming off arguably their worst loss in history as the Vols fell 38-30, to Georgia State, despite being 25-point home favorites. Making matters worse, Tennessee paid the Panthers $950,000 for the guarantee game and with games against No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia and No. 11 Florida over the next month, the Vols will be desperate for a win as they try to get some positive momentum going into conference play.
Date: Saturday, September 7
Time: 5:00 p.m. MT
Announcers: Dave Pasch, Greg McElroy, Tom Luginbill
Location: Neyland Stadium (102,455) — Knoxville, Tennessee
Before the season started, the Vols were a touchdown favorite over BYU. However, after what happened last week, the opening line at several sportsbooks stood at -1 in favor of Tennessee. The consensus right now currently has the Vols as 4-point favorites.
As I noted in my season preview for BYU, Tennessee looked to be the most winnable contest of the first four games. The Vols finished 5-7 last season and although they did beat then-No. 21 Auburn, the program continues to be in a rut and far from its glory days.
Tennessee O-Line vs. BYU D-Line
Watching last week’s game against Georgia State, I noticed the offensive line for the Vols couldn’t generate any sort of a push against the Panthers defensive front. Outside a couple big runs, Tennessee’s ground game got stuffed with ease as the Vols finished the game with just 93 rushing yards for an average of three yards per carry.
In passing situations, the offensive line — for the most part — did give quarterback Jarrett Guarantano a good amount of time to throw the ball as the junior threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns last week. The Panthers were able to get several sacks, however, those all came in the fourth quarter as the offensive line for the Vols just seemed to quit.
On the defensive side, the Cougars bring back a number of starters from a group that finished in the Top 25 in total defense last year. Against Utah, the defense only gave up 16 points, with 10 of those points coming from short fields due to turnovers and a missed fourth-down conversion. The only concern for Cougar fans is that the defense did not bring a lot of pressure last week, which may or may not have been design as the Cougars looked to contain dual-threat quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss.
Lastly, BYU did not force any turnovers last week in the loss to Utah. Losing the turnover battle is a sure way to get beat and with both teams committing three turnovers last week, it seems whoever takes care of the ball the best on Saturday is going to win this game.
BYU Run Game vs. Tennessee D-Line
On offense, BYU is most likely going to look to establish the run game after seeing Georgia State rack up over 200 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Seeing as Zac Wilson is coming off a game where he threw two pick 6’s, the coaching staff will likely be conservative and feed the ball to running backs Ty’Son Williams and Lopini Katoa in the early going to help open up the passing lanes as well as the play-action pass for Wilson.
For Tennesee fans, the fact that Wilson is a dual-threat quarterback — similar to that of the Georgia State quarterback who just torched them — has many expecting another loss after seeing just how bad its defense was last week. On the bright side for Vols fans, the team may get linebacker Daniel Bituli back in the lineup this week after the senior underwent a minor procedure to alleviate some pain in his knee this offseason. The two-year starter is arguably one of Tennessee’s most important players on defense. Add the fact that Bituli handled the role of calling the signals for Tennessee’s defense — which is currently being done by freshman Henry To’o To’o — could be the reason why so many players were out of position last week in the loss.
Prediction: BYU 28, Tennessee 21
Tennessee has a decent offense and some great skill players in Jauan Jennings, Ty Chandler and Eric Gray, however, I do think BYU’s defense will be able to contain the Vols’ offense. The Cougars went up against a better offense last week against Utah, so unless the Vols come out with some trick plays for some easy scores, defending the Vols shouldn’t be problematic.
For BYU, the offensive line showed a lot of promise against Utah, a team that many expect to have the nation’s best defensive line. Now going up against a defense that struggled to defend the Panthers, a team that went 2-10 last year and picked to finish last in the Sun Belt Conference this year, the Cougar offense should have a much easier time moving the ball and putting up a lot more points.
With the struggles the Vols had on both the offensive and defensive lines, I expect BYU to control the line of scrimmage on Saturday and wear down Tennessee in the second half. I honestly don’t think the Vols will be able to solve most of their problems in the short amount of time, and with BYU having a couple days of extra rest since playing last Thursday, I believe the Cougars will not only cover, but will beat the Vols. Both teams come in with a lot of motivation after losing their season openers so I don’t really see that factoring in much.