Tennessee Football Preview: Akron Comes to Knoxville

    by -

    Tennessee Pittsburgh

    Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel against Pittsburgh. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

    The Opponent: The University of Akron Zips represent another Mid-American Conference opponent for Tennessee. Akron is coached by former Mississippi State head man Joe Moorhead, in his first season leading the Zips. Wikipedia tells me Akron’s mascot was originally the Zippers, named for a particular type of rubber boot manufactured in Akron. That has since been shortened to the Zips, as is represented in animal form by a precious little Kangaroo. Zippy is apparently one of a very small handful of female mascots in college sports. I have to dig a little deeper for distinguished alumni from Akron, but a few names stand out. I will give a particular nod to one half of the Black Keys, Dan Auerbach. The band’s third album, Rubber Factory, is appropriately named for a city so rooted in rubber heritage.

    Are they any good? No, Akron is not good at all. I would like to be as polite as possible, but the Zips downright suck. Joe Moorhead inherited a tough task, taking over for Tom Arth after he went 3-24 over three seasons. Over the past year, Akron has played three Power 5 opponents in Auburn, Ohio State and Michigan State. The combined score of those games has been 171-17. Akron did open this season with a gutty overtime win over Saint Francis University though.

    What does Vegas say? The men in the desert initially set this line at 45.5. It has been bet up to 47.5. If you are betting spreads like these then that is a good indication you have a problem. This link will provide you with some resources to get help. However, if you want to throw caution to the wind, then this breakdown from RTI offers some good insight into Tennessee’s recent history as massive favorites.

    What will this game tell us about the Vols? Once again, I think very little is the answer. Tennessee doesn’t really prove anything by clubbing the Zips by 50+. On the flip side, who could blame the Vols for coming out a little flat with a game sandwiched in between an emotional Pitt road trip and a huge game against Florida? It is entirely possible we see Tennessee limp along to a 38-10 type of win.

    This game should tell us most about Tennessee’s underclassmen. You can’t say it aloud, but this coaching staff has to be viewing this game like a JV contest. It should be an opportunity to get your second and third string plenty of action. This should be an opponent that second stringers can easily handle. In particular, do we see more bodies rotate through at wide receiver? Receiver was a three-man unit against Pittsburgh. Can guys like Ramel Keyton, Jimmy Callaway or Walker Merrill command more playing time with a strong showing against the Zips? On defense, we should see Juwan Mitchell back on the field Saturday night. While Aaron Beasley’s surprise play through two games may relegate Mitchell to second string for now, the Vols desperately need depth at linebacker. It is anybody’s guess what to expect from the mercurial Mitchell at this point. Tennessee will need him this year though. I’ll be watching what kind of shape he is in Saturday night.

    More from RTI: Josh Heupel ‘Hopeful’ A Pair Of Vols Will Make Season Debut Against Akron

    Matchup to watch on Offense: This game is the perfect opportunity to fine-tune a running game that has been lackluster through two games. This Tennessee running game averaged 4.9 yards per carry and over 215 yards per game last season. The tempo of this offense is not as lethal without an effective ground game. We saw that in Pittsburgh last weekend when Tennessee really struggled running the ball. Despite their opening struggles against West Virginia, Pitt had one of the best run defenses in America last year. They clearly made it a priority to bottle up Tennessee’s ground game. The Panthers are in the rearview mirror though, and Tennessee has no excuses not to run on Akron. The Zips gave up over 6.0 yards per carry last season and nearly 250 yards per carry on the ground. Michigan State ran for over 260 yards last Saturday against Akron. Anything other than a dominant ground game Saturday night would be a little concerning with Florida coming to town. I’ll be keeping an eye on the running back rotation. Jaylen Wright has shown an extra gear this season, but has a fumble in each of his first two games. Jabari Small has looked improved in short yardage, but hasn’t broken out as much in the open field. We should see more of Dylan Sampson Saturday night. These guys are competing for carries against Florida at this point, and this Akron game is the audition.

    Matchup to watch on Defense: Tennessee’s defense deserves most of the credit for last Saturday’s win against Pittsburgh. They didn’t play perfect but that made impact plays at the right moments. They were really solid in the red zone, allowing only one touchdown in four trips. Saturday night offers a good opportunity to let that confidence grow. I will be keeping my eyes on that rotation in the secondary for the Vols. We heard so much praise for Christian Charles last season before his injury at Missouri. Charles played a fair amount against Ball State, but only had a few token snaps in Pittsburgh. He will get plenty of snaps tomorrow night. At a minimum, it is about building depth with players like Charles. I think there is more opportunity though. Warren Burrell continues to look like a player struggling with confidence. SEC opponents will really attack Tennessee’s corners if they continue to play with so much cushion. Can some young guys like Christian Charles or Brandon Turnage prove something to coaches this weekend? Less than a year ago Turnage was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week after an amazing performance against South Carolina. Can a guy like Andre Turrentine make an impression at the safety position where a veteran like Jaylen McCullough hasn’t really impressed thus far? I will be watching that rotation in the secondary Saturday night.

    Fun Fact: One of the most contested events in United States history is who exactly invented the hamburger. Arguably no food is more synonymous with American food culture, so it is not surprising that several people and places lay claim to its origin. Brothers Frank & Charles Menches make a strong case that they invented the modern day American hamburger at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, New York. The location is thought to be the inspiration for the name itself. However, Frank Menches’ actual obituary seems to debunk part of that myth. It claimed the event actually took place at the 1892 Summit County Fair in Akron. Americans will probably never get to the bottom of the birth of the burger, but Akronites are convinced it is their title to claim. Every August Akron hosts the National Hamburger Festival. If you are feeling extra saucy, you can even enter their Bobbing for Burgers contest. Participants use only their mouths as they attempt to pull plastic burgers out of a giant pool of ketchup. Yum Yum.

    So What Happens? In short, Tennessee rolls Akron. I don’t know how much the final score will really matter. The most important thing is the Vols stay healthy just one week before Florida comes into town. I think Tennessee gets its ground game going in a big way against a horrible Akron run defense. Multiple backs will get double-digit carries. I don’t expect it to be perfect, but the Vols will be able to keep it vanilla and still score at will. Hopefully we see a fourth or fifth wide receiver step up and have a solid game. It would also be a nice opportunity to get Jacob Warren and Princeton Fant more involved in the throw game. It will be interesting to see what the Zips do at quarterback. Redshirt junior DJ Irons got banged up against Michigan State. His availability is in doubt against Tennessee. Irons can make some plays with his legs, so would be a great warm up for this defense before Anthony Richardson gets to town. Let’s not forget how badly this defense was gashed against running quarterbacks last season. With or without Irons, Akron does not have the talent on offense to consistently challenge Tennessee. The Zips will move the ball some, and will find limited success as the Vols rotate through some younger players. Akron gets a back door cover against mostly Tennessee walk-ons. Vols 62, Zips 17