No. 23 Tennessee (2-1) will host UTSA (1-2) this Saturday afternoon in Knoxville as the Vols returned home from a trip to Gainesville last weekend.
While UTSA has struggled at times to get the engine running in the early parts of the season, the 1-2 record is a bit of a deception due to the injuries that have stacked up. The Roadrunners bring an effective offense to Knoxville but one that has been slowed down with quarterback Frank Harris Jr. banged up since the spring and through the fall.
Harris Jr. underwent multiple knee surgeries during the offseason and ended up with an infection coming out of one of them. Additionally, the sixth-year quarterback is dealing with a turf toe injury that kept him out of UTSA’s game last week against Army.
Backup quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger led the Roadrunners at quarterback last week and threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-29 loss to the Black Knights.
With UTSA’s quarterback situation likely being a game-time decision for this weekend, Tennessee is preparing for either Harris Jr. or Marburger to take command of the offense.
“They’re a little bit different, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to prepare for both of them,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said on Thursday.
During a collaboration with Rocky Top Insider earlier in the week, the San Antonio Express-News’ Greg Luca stated that Marburger might have more raw arm talent than Harris Jr. which could open up some more downfield passing. That being said, though, the Frank Harris Jr.-led offense is more creative and dynamic thanks to the quarterback’s ability to use his legs. Luca also expressed that Marburger “likely won’t have the ability to make checks and diagnose coverages at the line that has made Harris so special in the later stages of his career.”
Harris Jr. is also much, much more experienced than the sophomore from Texas with Marburger. Frank Harris Jr. has nearly 10,000 passing yards and 76 touchdowns through the air over his 45 career games with the Roadrunners.
While Tennessee likely won’t know the starting quarterback until pregame, the Vols are still focusing inward. Heupel explained on Thursday that the team is working to clean certain areas up regardless of the quarterback on the field.
“At the end of the day, it’s a lot about us too,” Heupel continued on to say. “The things that we struggled with last week, we’ve got to be disciplined and then go make plays. That comes down to winning one-on-one situations.”
One of the big areas of criticism coming out of the game against Florida was Tennessee’s poor tackling effort. The Vols’ secondary struggled with consistent tackling on Saturday which led to several big plays from the Florida offense including a 62-yard touchdown run that has been circulating social media for days now. Tackling is one of the components that Heupel is referring to when he talks about the discipline of the players on the field.
“We continue to try and eliminate the tackles that you’re missing,” Tennessee DC Tim Banks said on Tuesday. “Is it not wrapping up? Is it not bringing your feet? We’re going to practice tackling whether we’re tackling at a 100 percent clip or a night like we had Saturday. We’re going to always try to emphasize tackling, but what kind of tackles showed up? We obviously had some open-field missed tackles that we need to get addressed. We try to put them in game-like situations the best that we can. We’re not taking guys to the ground, but as far as our footwork goes and our pad level, where our eyes are, we’re trying to make sure we emphasize those particular tackles.”
So while Tennessee won’t know who will be the quarterback of the Roadrunners’ offense this Saturday evening in Neyland Stadium, the Vols are preparing for both quarterbacks while also leveling out some of the internal problems that caused so much turmoil in The Swamp last Saturday.
No. 23 Tennessee will host UTSA at 4:00 p.m. ET on the SEC Network this Saturday evening in Neyland Stadium.