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Tennessee struggles to outlast Austin Peay 30-13
September 10, 2023, 10:32 a.m.

by Tom Mabry, Knox Daily Sun UT Football Writer

ut vols beat austin peay

In the home opener for Tennessee Football 2023 against Austin Peay, the Vols did not play like the number 9 team in the country.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way.

We were promised more of the fireworks of last season with Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton III handling the quarterback duties. Coach Josh Heupel stated that the team was ready to play the Governors, who lost by 26 in Week 1. Maybe the Vols’ slow start was literally the fireworks or maybe the lack of them to start the game. The weather definitely had a role.

The start of the game was delayed 30 or more minutes due to lightning in area around the campus. Whoever decided to get the team and the band off of the field definitely made the right choice. The Thunder DID sound vaguely like fireworks. With the band scurrying for cover, the moment the Vols have awaited since last season didn’t happen - there was no Power T to run through to start the contest - and Austin Peay wasn’t intimidated.

ut students on game day

Recent Tennessee football under Huepel is known for fast starts as being ahead of an opponent by three or more touchdowns in the first quarter is commonplace. The score at the end of the first quarter of this one was a measly 3-3. The Three and Outs did give us the opportunity to watch ambidextrous Australian kicker Jackson Ross punt from his right foot and from his left foot in the first 15 minutes. For the record, Ross’ first right footed punt went 30 yards, the second left footed punt went 49 yards and resulted in an Austin Peay fumble and subsequent Tennessee field goal. For traditionalists, that part of the kicking game was certainly entertaining.

But I digress.

The Governors passing game kept the ball out of the hands of Tennessee’s offense for much of the second quarter, and the Govs even lead 6-3 at one point. QB Mike DiLiello finished 29 for 39 with an interception and a 52 yard touchdown throw to Trey Goodman, who is so obscure that his countenance did not even appear on ESPN’s written summary of the game. The hope that Tennessee’s pass defense had improved from 2023 was seemingly dashed by this performance though APSU’s rushing yards were meager.

ut game flyover ut game day sunset

In any event, Milton III did score on a 6 yard up the gut keeper at the end of the first half for a 13-6 Vols halftime lead. The third quarter began promising for the Vols, but they continued to be bit by the penalty bug. Ten penalties for 88 yards stopped Tennessee momentum on numerous occasions.

Some of those penalties were questionable - at least according to various pundits in the Tennessee student section who weighed in with loud and boisterous objections to several second half “missed calls.” Their collective observations: Two APSU players watched the tape of last year’s chippy Akron game, decided to emulate the Zips tactics and attacked and held a Tennessee player on the ground. No penalty. Another time an Austin Peay receiver clearly fumbled after a reception but the pass was ruled incomplete. A third time was obvious interference perpetrated against a Vols receiver No call.

A student who identified as Gonzo maintained that the referee crew were all from the Atlantic Coast Conference and that the questionable calls against Tennessee was “payback for the Vols kicking Clemson’s [rear ends] in the Orange Bowl.” Several of Gonzo’s cohorts agreed, saying this was not a “conspiracy theory.” One other student self-reportedly stated that their UT Major was “Fact Checking” and the Gonzo’s observations were accurate.

In any event, the Tennessee offense became unstuck long enough to secure the win. A key play showed Milton’s athleticism as he quickly recovered from a high snap and in one motion flipped a pass to McCallan Castles for a 43 yard pass and run TD and a 30-13 lead, which was the final score. These type plays will be mandatory rather than optional if Tennessee plans to beat Florida in The Swamp next weekend and contend for the SEC East Championship.


*Condredge Holloway was honored as 51 years ago to the day he started as Tennessee and the Southeastern Conference’s first black quarterback. In his post-game interview, Milton praised Holloway for his on and off the field leadership and astutely indicated that all quarterbacks of any color benefitted from this legacy.

*The Smokey Grey uniforms worn by the team to honor Holloway received mixed reviews. One commentator mentioned that the shade of the helmets did not match the grey uniform motif. A consensus of the players liked the uniform, though, and in the NIL of 2023, the players wishes are paramount and so too that of NIKE.

*The Helicopter Flyover in the Third Quarter was impressive as was the Sunset over the northwest portion of Neyland Stadium. The 101,915 in attendance were once again wowed by the atmosphere and nary a drop of rain hindered the spectacle.

*Tennessee’s running game continues to be a bright spot which can alleviate the inconsistencies on the offensive side of the ball. Jaylen Wright led all rushers with 13 carries for 118 yards.

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