Tennessee has played a lot of very good football programs this season. Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel’s first season as head coach of the Vols saw five top-25 teams on the slate — Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Pitt and Kentucky.
Tennessee went 1-4 in those games, but that was almost to be expected. Heupel was expected at the beginning of his freshman season to beat the bottom of the SEC East and the two easier non-conference opponents — Bowling Green and South Alabama.
The Jaguars may not have the talent of Alabama or Georgia, but they’re a dangerous matchup for the Vols in another way — South Alabama has nothing to lose and is one win away from being bowl eligible for the first time since 2018.
Heupel and the Volunteers are looking for a bowl berth of their own Saturday. Tennessee is likely to be favored in their last two games, needing only one win between the two to reach a postseason bowl for the first time since beating Indiana in 2019.
Heupel was adamant his team would not overlook a South Alabama team that has played good football against quality opponents so far this season.
“For us, we talk about ‘us’ every week. That’s true this week,” Heupel said. “Control the controllables, control preparation, be really consistent in who we are.”
“No matter how the stadium sounds or looks, our competitive nature has to be the same … I think that’s a way we have grown as a football team with our preparation.”
The Jaguars are 5-5 on the season, taking then-ranked Louisiana to the wire and losing by just 2 to Texas State.
South Alabama has faltered in intensity since the early season, dropping two in a row heading into their penultimate game against the Volunteers on their biggest stage of the season. Part of that drop in efficiency stems from the quarterback situation
The Jaguars were led by former South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley before he suffered an MCL tear in the middle of the season. Bentley, who had 15 touchdowns on the year before the injury, was playing his best football at the college level after stints with the Gamecocks and Utes of Utah.
Redshirt sophomore Desmond Trotter will likely start under center for the struggling Jaguars’ offense this Saturday. Trotter has thrown for 380 yards, 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in four games this season.
The Jaguars have played well defensively throughout the year, allowing opponents in the Sun Belt to just under 23 points per game. Redshirt junior and converted safety AJ DeShazor leads the unit, averaging 5.5 tackles per game.
The Vols have not been a group to overlook smaller opponents with just as much potential for victory as anyone. When asked about Tennessee’s future, Heupel reiterated that Tennessee football was focused on the Jaguars this week.
“This Saturday, South Alabama is the only one we get to play this week,” Heupel said. “We need to be ready to go play.”