KNOXVILLE – Tennessee is going to beat Austin Peay on Saturday night.
The coaches can’t say that. The players can’t say that. But the reality is that Tennessee, as a team, is significantly better than the Governors at every position on the field. The Vols will likely win by a comfortable margin of 40 or more points.
Anything else would be a disappointment.
And while the coaching staff has said that winning is, obviously, the main concern on Saturday, there are other things they will be looking for in what will likely turn into a blowout.
“We’ve preached to them about managing the offense,” offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said of what he’s looking for from his unit on Saturday. “Playing within the scheme, limiting penalties, limiting mental errors and playing sound football and within that, staying within the chains, making sure we’re in manageable third downs and distances.
“Playing pitch and catch in the pass game. If it’s there, we have to be able to complete it and obviously executing the basic fundamentals. It’s just a matter of just playing with great effort. That’s really what we want to see.”
Defensively, it’s much of the same for coordinator John Jancek, who will lead a defense making its first appearance since a disastrous performance in 2012 under former coordinator Sal Sunseri.
“I have more than that,” Jancek said when asked if he has three or four things he’s looking for on Saturday. “But one would be to play with great effort, two would be take great angles to the football and three would be finish with our tackles – no missed tackles.”
In summary, the coordinators are looking for progress in the effort and attention to detail from the players. All eyes, from both the coaching staff and the fans, will also be on the newcomers making their first appearance in Neyland Stadium.
Butch Jones has said that as many as 16 freshmen could play this year. Injuries will likely limit that number to closer to a dozen this week, but with UT’s weakest opponent of the season in town, expect the benches to clear later in the contest and many to make their debut.
“There’s going to be a ‘whoa factor,'” said receivers coach Zach Azzanni. “There’s really no way to completely prepare them for it.”
But that’s the benefit of beginning the season with an FCS opponent picked to finish last in the Ohio Valley Conference. Those nerves can be worked out and a mistake or two won’t sink the Vols in this one.
That will change quickly with a talented Western Kentucky squad visiting next week and trips to Oregon and Florida looming the next weeks. They can afford the luxury of focusing more on the process this week, though, and showing effort and discipline without the tension of facing a top-flight opponent.
The scoreboard might not tell the whole story. That will come in the film room on Sunday.
OUT:DE Corey Vereen, DE Jacques Smith, CB Michael Williams, TE Justin Meredith, WR Ryan Jenkins, TE Alex Ellis, CB Riyahd Jones
LIMITED:K George Bullock, S Brian Randolph, RB Marlin Lane, WR Paul Harris, WR Johnathon Johnson, LB Justin King
. Maggitt was out of the injury area on Wednesday after working there for much of Tuesday. Butch Jones has said they will decide later this week if Maggitt will play against Austin Peay.
. Jason Croom, who is listed as a co-starter with Josh Smith at one of the wide receiver spots, was getting most of the first-team work on Wednesday.
. Cody Blanc and Devrin Young both had nice catches in work near the goal line on Wednesday. Young made a leaping catch on a pass from Nathan Peterman, which drew the praise of coach Butch Jones over the microphone. Blanc made two leaping catches in the back of the end zone and managed to get his feet down for both.
. The stripes were back on for many of the newcomers. Yesterday’s practice report (which also explains the stripe system) said they all had them off, but it appears that they were actually wearing their game helmets in practice recently. Receivers Paul Harris, Josh Smith and Ryan Jenkins, tight ends A.J. Branisel and Woody Quinn, offensive linemen Brett Kendrick and Austin Sanders and defensive lineman Jason Carr are among the newcomers who still have a stripe.
. Though walk-on Jacob Gilliam is listed as the backup left tackle on the depth chart, freshman Austin Sanders and junior Marques Pair were both working there during practice on Wednesday.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga