Big Orange Report – Kickoff 2023
By Warner Agee
Taking Care of Business
Tennessee kicked off the 2023 football season as a 27.5-point favorite against the Virginia Cavaliers. No sweat, the Big Orange covered that spread with ease, winning 49-13 before a packed house in Nashville. The Volunteers delivered a complete performance as both the offense and defense sparkled in the lid lifter for what should be an exciting and intense football season.
Oh, the Vols had a couple of hiccups along the way but nothing that concerning considering it was the first contest on the schedule. The staff will go to work to smooth out the rough edges and frankly, what college football team ever delivers a perfect performance on any given Saturday.
Joe Milton and the offense rolled up 499 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per snap in this game. Milton clicked on 21 of 30 throws for two touchdowns and he also ran for 33 yards and two scores. The running game was even more impressive when one considers that the third tailback on the depth chart, Dylan Sampson, found paydirt three times in this victory. Starter Jaylen Wright gobbled up 115 yards on just 12 carries to average 9.6 yards per tote.
The deep and talented receiving corps saw seven different players catch at least one pass, led by Squirrel White who pulled down six of Milton’s aerials. Sixth year tight end Jacob Warren caught an 11-yard scoring strike from Milton. The Volunteers were six for six scoring touchdowns in red zone possessions in this win.
The improving UT defense was aggressive, opportunistic and appeared deeper and more athletic than it has been in several autumns. Senior defensive end Tyler Barron had a pair of sacks and sophomore edge rusher James Pearce, Jr. also tackled the quarterback for two sacks in this game. Pearce and fellow second year man Joshua Josephs are superior athletes and looked quick and fast off the edge on snaps in this triumph.
The Vol defense limited Virginia to an anemic 201 yards of total offense and at least one third of that number came when the game was no longer in doubt and UT was playing reserves. The Cavaliers averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on rushing attempts against the stingy Tennessee front seven. The attacking Tennessee defense had a total of 11 tackles for loss in this game.
The Big Orange will entertain Austin Peay on Saturday in what should be a glorified scrimmage. The Governors were totally impeached last weekend by Southern Illinois to the tune of 49-23. AP was stoned at the line of scrimmage and could only muster 39 yards rushing in the lopsided loss.
Meanwhile the Vols will be working to clean up just a few things before heading to Florida to face the Gators in the Southeastern Conference opener next week.
Vol outside linebacker and safety vs. Jordan Goco – The Austin Peay tight end is a big target. Goco is 6-6, 245, and is playing in his sixth season of college ball. The UT defense will be tested in the short to intermediate zones by this veteran who was named to the first team All-Conference, preseason team in the ASUN. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks might elect to have the Star position, primarily Tamarion McDonald, to handle man coverage against Goco.
Tennessee blockers vs. Tyler Long – A transfer from Norfork State, Long earned all-star mentions last fall after accumulating a total of 106 tackles. He is the younger brother of David Long who was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2019 and is now with the Miami Dolphins. Tyler Long can play inside or out, is tough against the run and can blitz off the edge in passing situations. He had 16 tackles in the loss to Southern Illinois.
Watch for This
Keep an eye on the young and talented outside pass rushers for the Volunteers. They could really give the Governors a miserable day at the office on Saturday. UT was actually able to have some success just rushing the front four against Virginia. The pressure is important against quarterback Mike Diliello, the lone bright spot for AP against SIU. He completed 20 of 34 throws for 214 yards and two scores but he also was intercepted twice in the game.