The Vols haven’t played Tennessee Tech since Nov. 5, 2016, a homecoming matchup that ended with a 55-0 UT blowout. Josh Dobbs passed for 3 touchdowns and true freshman running back Carlin Fils-Aime added 2 more on the ground. On paper, the win looks like any other blowout over a Football Championship Subdivision team, but in its full context, the Vols can gain a little bit of wisdom from that game five years ago.
Here are two lessons the Vols’ can learn from their 2016 route of Tennessee Tech.
Score early and often
Led by Dobbs, wide receivers Josh Malone and Juan Jennings, and stud running back Alvin Kamara, the 2016 Vols were a force on offense. They averaged 36.38 points per game en route to a 9-4 finish — good for second in the SEC East — and Dobbs finished his UT career with an All-SEC campaign.
The 2016 Vols wasted no time in finding the endzone against Tennessee Tech, as Dobb found Malone for a 30-yard TD pass under two minutes into the game. The Vols scored, adding 2 more touchdowns in the first quarter and 2 in the second, taking a 38-0 lead into halftime.
The 2021 Vols have the “score early” part down — they scored first in both games this season and totaled 24 points in the first quarter. It’s the “often” part that Tennessee has struggled with, following its solid first quarter efforts by being outscored 33-10 in the second quarter.
If Tennessee can put the pressure on Tech early, lesser teams like that tend to flop. That’s not to say that the Golden Eagles will just give up and let Tennessee walk all over them, or that Tennessee can take the second-half off and not try — the Vols are all too familiar with the non-conference upset. But there is no reason this game should be close at any time. The Vols are the vastly superior team, and they need to prove that after an underwhelming week two.
Every win matters
Of course every win matters. That’s obvious. In the context of the 2016 season, the route of Tennessee Tech was about as an important game as the Vols had all season. After two comeback wins against Florida and at Georgia, the Vols went on a momentum-killing, three-game losing streak, with losses at Texas A&M, to Alabama and at South Carolina.
In its homecoming game, Tennessee took advantage of a weak opponent and snapped its losing streak. With that win, the Vols secured bowl eligibility for the third straight season, which they later turned into a victory over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl.
Saturday’s game is Tennessee’s last before it begins SEC play with a road trip to Florida. The Vols have a tough SEC slate this year, and reaching bowl eligibility with six wins is going to be a tall ask, especially having already lost to Pitt.
This is Tennessee’s chance to take an easy one, and by a wide margin too.