Tennessee’s attention is past Bowling Green and on to Pittsburgh who presents a major non conference test.
It’s a return to big time non conference football at Neyland Stadium as the Vols host a non-SEC power five opponent for the first time since Baker Mayfield brought Oklahoma to Knoxville in 2005.
Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt team comes to Knoxville 1-0 and as a slight favorite after blowing out UMass week one.
“Their coaching staff has been there a long time, great quarterback like you said,” cornerback Alontae Taylor said of Pitt. “They do good what they do. We just have to make sure that we game plan the right way, make sure we hone in on the details. We had a pretty long break here before we play Pitt, so getting in the film room early, being able to nitpick at certain things and ask a lot of questions today, so we’ll come in tomorrow as we get ready for practice and get our game plan ready. We’ll just do what we’re supposed to do. I feel like if we execute our game plan, we’ll have the best chance to win.”
Starting quarterback Kenny Pickett brings a boat load of experience with him to Neyland Stadium. The fifth year senior is going on his fourth season starting off-and-on for the Panthers and started for both Pitt teams that Josh Heupel faced while at UCF.
In fact, Heupel said “he couldn’t believe” Pickett was still at Pittsburgh and the dual-threat quarterback’s 2021 campaign got off to a hot start, throwing for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns week one. Pickett’s 87.9 PFF grade against UMass was the highest of any Pitt offensive player that played more than 10 snaps.
In front of Pickett is an experienced offensive line that will give Tennessee a far greater challenge than Bowling Green’s did a week ago. Pitt starts four redshirt-seniors along its offensive line and played seven meaningful snaps in the opener.
“On their offensive line, they have a lot of great, experienced guys,” Tennessee defensive end Tyler Baron said. “Like I said, Kenny Pickett. They are a very good team. I think it is going to be a good matchup. They give us a lot of tough stuff, we’ve just got to be able to match up with it correctly.”
On the perimeters, Pitt returns five of its six receivers from a year ago including Jordan Anderson who caught 66 passes for 66 yards and four touchdowns in the Panthers 11-game season.
Pitt also added Florida transfer tight end Lucas Kroll this offseason. Krull— who caught 10 passes in three years at Florida— impressed in his Panthers’ debut, catching five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.
The Panthers’ offense is far from a juggernaut and won’t be the best Tennessee sees this year, but the unit is veteran led, likely won’t beat itself and provides a much greater challenge than what the Vols saw in week one.
“I watched them play Umass,” defensive lineman Caleb Tremblay said. “They blew them out … I think it’s going to be a great test for us to see where they’re at as a defense.”
If Pitt’s defense— what Narduzi’s is best known for— forces Tennessee into passing downs and the Vols passing attack falters like it did a week ago, UT’s defense will need to ace the week two test for the Big Orange to stay unbeaten.