Tennessee vs. Austin Peay
When: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. Time TBA.
Where: Knoxville, Tenn.
Austin Peay at a glance:
Head coach: Kirby Cannon (1st season at Austin Peay; 35-86 all-time record as a HC)
Conference: Ohio Valley
All-time record: 276-473-16
2012 record: 2-9 (1-7 OVC)
2012 overview: It was a season to forget for the Governors – who only mustered one conference win (Tennessee Tech) and lost nine games, all by at least 15 points. The troubles were on both sides of the ball with the defense giving up at least 40 points in six contests and the offense failing to accumulate more than two scores in all but four contests. There was some degree of improvement by the end of the season, though. In their final three weeks of the season, the Govs knocked off NAIA opponent Culver-Stockton 56-0, had its most competitive loss in a 38-23 defeat at Jacksonville State and capped the season off with a somewhat surprising 38-31 win over Tennessee Tech. It wasn’t enough to salvage much from the 2012 season, but did give the Govs something to build on heading into 2013. Former head coach Rick Christophel stepped down after the season and former Central Michigan defensive backs coach Kirby Cannon was hired in March as his replacement.
Three questions for the 2013 matchup:
1. What early strengths/weaknesses will be revealed for the Vols?
It’s usually not wise to put too much stock in a contest where one team clearly has the superior talent, but early-season matchups told a lot about the 2012 Vols. Even though they had relatively comfortable wins over Akron and Georgia State last year, it was apparent that the Vols had plenty of firepower on offense and some major holes in the defense. Both of those storylines continued to play out over the course of the season. This game might not tell much about how good UT is or isn’t, but it should give some clues as to what kind of team UT will be.
2. Who starts at quarterback for both teams?
Will Tennessee have an established starter by this point or will there be a rotation? Junior Justin Worley left spring with the most first-team reps, but redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman doesn’t seem too far behind him. They’ll both be pushed by incoming freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson this summer and into fall camp. This matchup would be the debut for any of the candidates with the exception of Worley. Austin Peay will be breaking in a new starter as well with Knoxville native Jake Ryan, the son of former UT quarterback Pat Ryan, moving on. Jacob Sexton, who appeared in six games in 2012, is the only returning quarterback with experience.
3. How is the fan support for Butch Jones’ first game?
Jones is clearly generating fan interest in Knoxville. His first Orange and White Game drew the second-largest crowd in spring game history in Knoxville. His highly-ranked recruiting class has drawn plenty of buzz as well. How will that carry into the regular season for a game that is unlikely to be too competitive? A sellout or near-capacity crowd would be a strong early vote of confidence from the UT fanbase.
How will it play out?
It’s too early to say exactly what Jones’ first product will look like on the field in Knoxville, but this one can go in the win column before the ball is kicked off for the Vols. Tennessee simply has too much size and speed for Austin Peay, a team that struggled to compete with even mediocre FCS teams last season and hasn’t shown much hope for drastic improvement this year. The Vols will likely use this as an opportunity to evaluate a lot of players and they will try to stay healthy for the upcoming grueling stretch.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga