Tennessee stays out of conference this week with a much more appealing opponent, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers. The Vols are still licking their wounds after a 26 point trouncing by 17th-ranked West Virginia last weekend in Charlotte. The end result was awful, but there were positives that UT could take from that game.
Let’s start by talking about the guys from Johnson City.
Last weekend ETSU beat Mars Hill 28-7. Mars Bar, Mars Blackmon, Mars Attacks!… either way that’s a Division II school and ETSU should be winning games like that one. Bucs quarterback Logan Marchi had a good game with 273 yards passing and three scores; this week the competition gets tougher for Marchi and the Buccaneers.
It’s a homecoming for ETSU head coach Randy Sanders, a former Tennessee quarterback and long-time assistant coach, 17 years to be exact. He was pressed into action in the 1998 BCS national title game when offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe bolted for the Ole Miss job. Sanders called the game of his life in the first game in which he ever called plays, as the Vols beat Florida State 23-16.
Sanders told reporters this week that if ETSU pulled the upset, he would carry the goalpost up the interstate, “probably naked.”
That said, even though the Vols don’t look like an SEC contender right now, this would be an upset of epic proportions.
The Vols will wear down the Buccaneers due to superior talent. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (172 yards passing, TD) and running back Tim Jordan (118 yards rushing, TD) showed improvement from 2017 in that loss to West Virginia. Receiver Marquez Callaway (seven catches for 85 yards) appears to be back in the good favor of his coaches, after being forgotten about by the previous staff last season.
Darrin Kirkland Jr. led the Vols with 10 tackles last weekend. Keeping him healthy is a huge deal for Tennessee this season.
Neyland Stadium will be loud on what should be a steamy late summer afternoon. That crowd will start heading to the exits around halftime, because this game will be well in hand after the first 30 minutes.
Fearless Prediction time… Tennessee 45-ETSU 10
(Mark’s Fearless Prediction Record in 2018: 1-0)
(Mark Nagi is the author of “Decade of Dysfunction: The Road to Tennessee’s Crazy Coaching Search,” which takes an in-depth look at the ten years of frustration that led to a revolt by Vols fans after UT attempted to hire Greg Schiano as its head coach in 2017.)
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