KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Volunteers are set to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers in the inaugural Johnny Majors Classic on Sept. 11, with a noon kickoff. Both Pitt and the Vols faced similar opponents in week one with double-digit victories, so what does that mean for Saturday’s matchup?
The Vols faced the Bowling Green Falcons to open their season, with a favorable 38-6 victory under the Thursday night lights at Neyland. Meanwhile, the Panthers routed the UMass Minutemen 51-7 in their Saturday matchup to begin their season.
Both UMass and Bowling Green didn’t win a single game last season. Bowling Green went 0-5, while UMass went 0-4 during the 2020 college football season that was heavily impacted by COVID-19.
- Total yards: 471
- Passing yards: 145
- Rushing yards: 326
- Yards per play: 5.4
- Total yards: 597
- Passing yards: 375
- Rushing yards: 223
- Yards per play: 6.9
Both Tennessee and Pitt had trouble holding onto the bowl in their season openers, the Panthers lost three fumbles, while the Vols lost two. The Vols run game was the highlight of their season opener with two running backs (Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small) rushing for over 100 yards and two touchdowns, followed by quarterback Joe Milton III’s 44 yards and two touchdowns.
Vols coach Josh Heupel was very pleased with his running backs’ performance and saw a lot of room for improvement in their passing game.
“At the running back position, I thought we did a really good job of pressing the line of scrimmage and delivering second-level blocks to some of our combinations, whether it’s a center and a guard, or a guard and a tackle,” said coach Josh Heupel. “I thought they bounced it well when it was right to bounce it, they didn’t just look to bounce it. I thought they finished the runs really well, trying to get plus-two out of it.”
“A lot of it is simple execution. It’s him having eyes in the right spot, his feet being in the right position
to be accurate with the football,” said Heupel. “There were a couple of times where we hit a receiver down the field, and they’ve got to come up with the catch. Some things where wide receivers aren’t reading (the
defense) the same way that he is. A couple of things in protection where he’s scrambling.”
Pitt maintained a balanced attack as quarterback Kenny Pickett had a stellar day throwing the ball completing 27 of 37 throws with two touchdowns and 272 yards. The run game for the Panthers was filled with multiple runners, and five touchdowns; they had nine players rush the ball for a combined 41 attempts with 223 yards.
The Vols held the Falcons to just 219 total yards (187 passing and 32 rushing) while allowing two field goals for BG’s six points. The Vols allowed the Falcons to convert two of their 14 third downs and forced them to punt the ball eight times in the game.
The Panthers had similar success with holding the Minutemen to 209 total yards (167 passing and 42 rushing) while allowing a fourth-quarter touchdown as their only score. They allowed UMass to convert on three of their 13 third downs, forced a fumble, and forced them to punt the ball nine times.
Tennessee coach Josh Heupel made it known in a press conference he’s very aware of how talented Pitt is on the defensive side of the ball.
“They (Pitt) lost a couple of elite players off the edge from last year’s defense,” said Heupel. “They still got a bunch of guys that get after the quarterback. They do that in base down, first and second (down), third down. (They) have multiple schemes to try and mess with your protections and create matchups where they
can get after the quarterback. You got to do a great job of chewing up yards. You don’t want to be in third and long on these guys.”
Pitt had a far more successful season than the Vols did in 2020, compiling a 6-5 record compared to Tennessee’s 3-7 record. The Panthers declined to participate in postseason play despite being bowl eligible, citing the challenges of the pandemic and letting players spend more time with family during the holidays.