Tennessee’s upcoming game against UConn doesn’t bring the same anticipation as a game against Florida, Alabama, or any other SEC team.
But this game can provide value for Tennessee.
The Vols are 6-2 and look like an improved team from the first month of the season.
An opponent like UConn should allow Tennessee to build on its strong play.
There’s also a chance to improve on some of the Vols’ weaknesses that have continued to show.
What should we look for from Tennessee against UConn on Saturday?
Here are five things for the Vols’ to-do list.
Score 50 points
Tennessee scored 50 or more points in six of the Vols’ 13 games in 2022.
Tennessee has yet to hit 50 points in a game this season.
The Vols came close in the opener, beating Virginia 49-13.
This would be a good week for Tennessee’s offense to break out and hit half-a-hundred.
The Austin Peay game looked like an easy opportunity in Week 2.
But Tennessee struggled to 30 points in that game.
Here’s a chance for Joe Milton III and the Vols’ starters to put up some points and show the fans what they’re used to seeing with Josh Heupel at the helm.
This doesn’t mean scoring 50 points against UConn will be an automatic.
The most points the Huskies have allowed this season is 41 against Duke on Sept. 23.
But UConn ranks 103rd in the nation in total defense.
Tennessee should have no trouble moving the ball.
The Vols need to capitalize when they do.
Red Zone Touchdowns
If Tennessee is going to score 50-plus points, they need touchdowns instead of field goals.
Charles Campbell earned his SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors last week by hitting all four field goal attempts at Kentucky.
Tennessee doesn’t want him to repeat the award this week.
Tennessee is tied with Texas A&M for last in the SEC in red zone touchdown rate.
Last season, the Vols scored a touchdown better than 79 percent of the time when they entered the red zone.
This year, Tennessee reaches the end zone 51.35% percent of the time when the Vols get to the red zone.
Tennessee can beat UConn kicking field goals this week.
But against Missouri or Georgia?
That would be tough.
Work on the red-zone offense this week.
Get Dont’e Thornton going
The highly-touted transfer has had a tough season.
But he had a mini breakout at Kentucky, catching three passes for 63 yards.
Thornton appeared more comfortable playing outside at receiver instead of in the slot.
Is this the start of a more productive Thornton?
His athleticism has never been a question; neither has Heupel’s offense.
Thornton was expected to help fill the void of Jalin Hyatt when the season began.
Expectations were too high for a guy still trying to prove himself.
Who would have guessed Thornton would still be looking for his first touchdown as Vol after eight games?
Thornton can still serve as a deep-threat option in Tennessee’s offense.
He should be able to show that against UConn.
Restart the pass rush
Yes, I’ve seen the missed holding calls from the Alabama and Kentucky games.
But Tennessee can’t blame everything on the officials, especially Devin Leary’s 372 passing yards last week.
Tennessee’s defensive front should be disruptive this week with a talent advantage against UConn.
The Huskies are 15th-best in the nation in sacks allowed.
But a good pass rush is not determined by sacks alone.
The Vols were great against Kentucky’s rushing game last week and should play better overall this week.
Tennessee’s defense got burned by Leary.
If the Vols can’t disrupt Missouri quarterback Brady Cook next week, it could be another long game for Tennessee’s defense.
Returning to form starts this week for the Vols.
Empty the bench
That 30-point showing against Austin Peay was a blown opportunity for Tennessee’s young players.
I thought freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava might play an entire half against Austin Peay.
He never entered the game because the starters never gave him a chance.
If everything listed above happens, Tennessee’s backups should see plenty of opportunities against UConn.
Nico would be the main attraction, but a lot of players need to play.
The Vols have several young defensive backs who will compete for starting roles next season.
The same goes for Tennessee’s offensive line, which projects to lose several seniors after this season.
The coaching staff has been excited about freshman running backs Khalifa Keith and Cameron Seldon.
Keith and Seldon have a combined seven carries on the season.
Let’s see them bump that up on Saturday.
Tennessee has a big opportunity in November with games against SEC East opponents Missouri, Georgia and Vanderbilt.
Tennessee should use this week to prepare for bigger games to come.