By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – These are the games that these guys dream about – running out of the tunnel at Neyland Stadium with nearly 100,000 screaming fans, taking on a team that many on the roster grew up watching every Saturday.
As Tennessee Tech takes to Shields-Watkins Field on Saturday to take on their Football Bowl Subdivision brothers, the Tennessee Volunteers, the game probably means just as much to them – if not more -- than any other game they'll play in their careers.
While it's only been five years since these two teams locked horns, it is a series that mostly saw its heyday in the late 1940s and '50s. In the six meetings, Tennessee has outscored Tech 297-20, including four shutouts in 1947, 1948, 1951 and 2016.
However, as the game dawns on Saturday, that statistic is irrelevant. Saturday is about showing what they can do against some of the elite student-athletes in the country.
Roger Ealey and Dylan Vazzano will provide the Golden Eagle call from Knoxville on 98.5 KISS FM, while Kevin Brown, Hutson Mason and Abby Labar will handle broadcast duties on SEC Network+ (streaming, available with TV provider log-in) and ESPN+ (subscription required).
In head coach Josh Heupel's first run with the Volunteers thus far, he has led the Orange and White to a convincing win over Bowling Green, 38-6, then a tough, but thrilling, 41-34 loss to Pittsburgh in the Johnny Majors Classic.
Now, it's the Golden Eagles' turn. While Tech has experienced some growing pains in the first two games of the season – a 52-14 loss at Samford and a 26-0 loss this past week to Furman – it's still the warmup act to the important part of Tech's schedule as Ohio Valley Conference play begins next week to two consecutive home games against Eastern Illinois and Southeast Missouri.
The Tech offense will look to bounce back from Saturday's shutout to the Paladins – the first in head coach Dewayne Alexander's collegiate coaching career. Furman's defense has been strong, sidelining a North Carolina A&T team that has been consistently ranked in the Football Championship Subdivision Top 25 in Week 1.
Quarterbacks Davis Shanley and Willie Miller continue to grow into the roles – a completely different team for Shanley as he transferred in from Western Kentucky mid-summer, while Miller did get the keys to the offense in the spring campaign. Shanley has 219 passing yards, Miller 41 in two games so far. Quinton Cross has collected nearly a third of the completions and yardage, picking up 94 yards on 10 catches. Justin Oden has Tech's lone receiving touchdown.
On the ground, David Gist has made a good return so far as the Cookeville product has rushed for 104 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown against the Bulldogs.
Defensively, with Furman keeping the Tech defense on the field for a long time on Saturday, the Golden Eagles have seen the tackle numbers slightly higher than they'd probably like through two games. But Tech is getting great performances on that side with five players already in double-digits as linebackers Seth Carlisle and Jack Warwick have 17 and 13 stops respectively, while defensive backs Josh Reliford and Jamal Boyd each have 16.
The Golden Eagles have already seen a fast-paced offense this season with Samford – propelled by 2020-21 Walter Peyton Award finalist Liam Welch at quarterback – but the Vols are a different story.
It remains to be seen as to who will be throwing passes against the Golden Eagles. Redshirt senior Hendon Hooker came on in relief of starter Joe Milton III, throwing for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-21 passing to try to bring the Vols back against Pitt.
On the whole, Tennessee collected 374 yards of offense against the Panthers – 238 through the air as receiver Jimmy Calloway had a career-high 59 yards on three catches to lead the way, as well as 136 rushing yards with Milton running for 54 yards on five totes.
For the season, Jabari Small has 135 yards and two touchdowns, Tiyon Evans 120 yards and a score and Milton 98 yards and two end zone visits on the ground. Through the air, Milton and Hooker are nearly even on yardage with four yards separating the 193-189 performance so far, but Hooker has two touchdown strikes. Cedric Tillman has the most receiving yards with 68, while Jacob Warren has caught six passes. Theo Jackson leads UT on the defensive side with 22 total tackles, including 4.5 for-loss, one sack, four pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. Tyler Baron also has 3.5 tackles in the backfield.
Limited quantities of tickets for Saturday's game are still available through the Tennessee Tech ticket office -- call (931) 372-3940 to order through midday Friday.