Tennessee knew they’d have to deal with two key losses leading up to the Austin Peay game. However, even former backups were too much for the Governors.
The Vols beat Austin Peay 30-13 in the Vols’ home opener at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee had to do so without preseason All-SEC center Cooper Mays and middle linebacker Keenan Pili. Mays could return for the Florida game on Saturday. However, Pili’s injury will keep him sidelined for the foreseeable future.
Tennessee’s had a decent challenge against Austin Peay. Sophomore Elijah Herring started in place of Pili alongside previous starting middle linebacker Aaron Beasley, who had been moved to weak side linebacker in the offseason when Pili arrived. Not fazed by his absence, Beasley led the Vols with nine tackles, five for a loss, including two sacks and a would-be game-changing play.
Beasley should have also been credited with scooping up a fumble in the third quarter that was a blown call twice, once initially then upon review. No flag was thrown on the officials.
With his start, Herring registered four tackles. Freshman linebacker Arion Carter also received more playing time, but logged just one tackle. Beasley, who is now the only upperclassman among the Vols’ primary rotation of linebackers, knows things will get much tougher for the Vols next week when the Vols travel to Florida
Gator quarterback Graham Mertz may not be a Heisman candidate, but he and the rest of Florida’s offense will be more than the Governors could bring to the table against the Vols, which was more than the Vols could handle at times.
The Vols played their second game without Mays this season and fared quite well. The Vols ran for 228 yards per carry, averaging 7.1 per carry. The performance was hardly a surprise. The Vols trounced Virginia in the season opener, averaging 5.5-yards per carry in a 49-13 win. Tennessee would have been more effective offensively and scored more had their passing offense not struggled.
The Vols did give up a sack, but held the pocket for the vast majority of the game. In Mays’ place, center Ollie Lane has played well, as has his replacement at left guard, Andrej Kuric. However, the Vols would love to have Mays back at center in time for the Florida game. That is considered a possibility, but not a guarantee.
Offensive line communication, which is handled by the center, will be a challenge at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, which is one of the loudest venues in college football.
Credit Tennessee for quickly reacting to two significant injuries. Unfortunately, the Vols have other issues at hand.
Tennessee will play in Gainesville at 7 p.m. on Saturday.