Tennessee, BYU trying to bounce back from miserable openers
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Either Tennessee or BYU is about to encounter an unfamiliar and unwanted situation.
After both teams suffered disappointing losses in their openers – particularly in Tennessee’s case – one of them is about to remain winless two weeks into the season.
That scenario raises the stakes as these two storied programs face off for the first time Saturday at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee hasn’t started a season 0-2 since dropping its first six games in 1988, while BYU hasn’t opened 0-2 since 1995.
“There’s some things that they’re embarrassed with in that first week just like we are,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “Only one team’s going to win this week, and I think it’s going to be the one that’s best prepared and motivated.”
BYU opened the season with a 30-12 setback against No. 13 Utah, the ninth straight year the Cougars have lost to their biggest rival.
At least BYU fell to a Top 25 team.
Tennessee lost its opener 38-30 to 26-point underdog Georgia State, a Sun Belt Conference program coming off a 2-10 season.
The Vols want to show that one outing doesn’t define a season, no matter how miserable that performance may have been. Tennessee is a 3 ½-point favorite Saturday even after its humiliating opener.
“I didn’t sign up for a one-game fight, you know,” Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings said. “This is a 12-game fight.”
Both teams would actually prefer to play at least 13 games this season, but the road to bowl eligibility is challenging for any team that starts out 0-2.
That’s why neither team can afford to dwell on its missed opportunities from a week ago. Tennessee offensive lineman Ryan Johnson, who describes himself as a history buff, made that point clear as the Vols prepared for BYU.
“I think we can learn a lot of things from Georgia State,” Johnson said. “But it’s important to remember, not just in football but in life, you’ve got to focus on what’s up next. You’ve got to focus on the present because if you keep dwelling on the past, you’re going to repeat the past.”
Some other things to watch when Tennessee hosts BYU.
Both teams must take better care of the ball.
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the loss to Utah.
Tennessee committed three turnovers against Georgia State that led to 17 points. Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw for 311 yards but had a fumble and an interception in the fourth quarter.
BYU shouldn’t be awed by its surroundings as it enters Neyland Stadium with its 102,455-seat capacity.
The Cougars went 2-2 in road games against Power Five teams last year, including a 24-21 victory at Wisconsin when the Badgers were ranked sixth.
WILLIAMS RETURNS TO SEC COUNTRY
BYU running back Ty’Son Williams is a South Carolina graduate transfer who has played against Tennessee twice before. Williams totaled 24 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown in those two games.
Williams ran for 45 yards and a touchdown on seven attempts against Utah.
SLOWING THE RUN
Both teams allowed opponents to run effectively last week.
BYU allowed Utah to rush for 262 yards on 48 carries. Utah’s Zack Moss ran for 187 yards.
Tennessee was outrushed 213-93 by Georgia State, including 160-(minus-2) in the second half. Tennessee has no returning starters on its defensive line.
The Vols’ defense could get a boost if linebacker Daniel Bituli returns after missing the Georgia State game with a knee injury. Bituli led Tennessee in tackles in 2017 and 2018.
Tennessee has a talented receiving corps featuring seniors Marquez Callaway and Jennings, who each caught a touchdown pass last week. Jennings had seven receptions for 108 yards.
This game also showcases two quality tight ends.
BYU’s Matt Bushman had six catches – matching the highest total by any Football Bowl Subdivision tight end last week – for 62 yards against Utah. Tennessee’s Dominick Wood-Anderson caught three passes for 79 yards against Georgia State.