After the week that Tennessee had, its tuneup game against the Akron Zips Saturday at Neyland Stadium couldn't have come at a better time.
Hopes were high on Rocky Top in anticipation of a potential Vol victory over rival Florida that would've marked Tennessee's first win over the Gators in eight years, and ESPN College GameDay's presence didn't hurt, either. But Tennessee (2-1, 0-1 SEC) came up short after a second-half collapse on both sides of the ball and walked out with its first loss of the year, 37-20.
Head coach Terry Bowden, the coach of Auburn in the '90s and son of esteemed Hall of Famer Bobby Bowden, leads the Zips (1-2) into Knoxville, Tenn., after Akron notched its first win of the season in a 66-6 drubbing of Morgan State.
Here's everything you need to know for the non-conference clash between the Vols and Zips.
Where: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tenn.
When: Saturday, Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN3
Betting Line: Tennessee (-35) (according to AccuScore)
Brendan Downs—Sophomore tight end is questionable with a knee injury.
LaTroy Lewis—Freshman linebacker is out for the season with a knee injury.
George Bullock—Freshman place kicker is out for the season with a leg injury.
Brian Randolph—Sophomore starting safety is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Akron Injury Report (via USA Today)
No injuries to report
BCS/Top 25 Implications
The Vols were ranked in the AP Top 25 last week for the first time since 2008 at No. 23 but fell out of the rankings after their home loss to then-No. 18 Florida.
Tennessee has a chance to prove that its offense is still lethal by hanging a lot of points on Akron, but it won't be enough to get the Vols back in the polls. However, they travel to Georgia the following week, and a massive road victory over an AP Top 5 team would certainly shoot them deep into the top 25 in each poll.
Though the Vols don't look much like a BCS team at the moment, they only have one loss, and if they were to somehow run the table, they'd have a major case for the BCS National Championship.
Unfortunately for head coach Derek Dooley's squad, however, that would include having to go through Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi State and even top-ranked Alabama.
What They're Saying
With Tennessee's secondary taking most of the blame for some big third-quarter plays that put the game away for Florida just minutes after the Vols had the lead, Tennessee certainly didn't need arguably its best defensive back to tear his ACL. That's just what he did.
According to Evan Woodbery of GoVolsXtra, starting safety Byron Moore is ready to take on an extra role in the defensive backfield after losing his starting partner, Brian Randolph, for the season.
"I'll take on more of a leadership role back there and make sure those guys are right," Moore said. "[Randolph] was another leader. He was a real smart player and knew the defense well. Me and him combined were able to get the DBs lined up right. We should be fine. I'm going to have to step up even more now. I'll be ready for it."
Highly touted freshman safety LaDarrell McNeil may be playing a much bigger role than he expected throughout the rest of the season, and his teammates, in this case Moore, have a lot of good things to say about him (via GoVolsXtra):
[McNeil is] a real high-motor guy. He flies around every time he goes out there and always goes 110 percent. We just have to get him learning the plays and ready to go now.
Dooley and new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri better hope that Moore is right, because McNeil will be thrown into the fire this season and play many more snaps than he may have expected.
Tennessee Player to Watch: Quarterback Tyler Bray
All eyes were on Tyler Bray in the Vols' nationally televised game against Florida, and he dazzled early only to fade along with the rest of his team down the stretch. He'll have a chance to get his confidence back and pad his stats even more against the Zips.
For every jaw-dropping pass that Bray carved through Florida's secondary in the first half, there was an ill-advised one that fell incomplete in the second half. He went from placing the ball only where his receivers could get it to placing it where nobody could come close and rarely went through his progressions.
Bray showed us yet another glimpse of his potential and NFL-caliber skill set, but we didn't see him battle through adversity when the Gators hung a huge third quarter on the Vols.
More struggles, against a team like the Akron Zips, could send Bray's draft stock plummeting along with his team's chances of having a rebound year.
However, a massive stat sheet in this game could help to erase the doubt that crept into many's minds after Saturday and begin to cause his name to be whispered among the Heisman Trophy contenders.
We do know, though, that he won't fully be given credit until he wins a big-time SEC game.
Akron Player to Watch: Quarterback Dalton Williams
Not many FBS quarterbacks have gotten off to better starts in 2012 than Akron gunslinger Dalton Williams.
The senior has already amassed 1,000 passing yards in three games to go along with 10 touchdowns and just three picks. He went for 446 yards and three touchdowns in his team's 66-6 win over Morgan State.
However, Williams suffered a rib injury during the win. Bowden said, though, that Williams practiced Monday and is fully expected to start against the Vols in Neyland Stadium (according to George Thomas of Akron Beacon Journal).
Even if he's not 100 percent, Williams will give the Zips the best chance to put some points on the board against a stingy Vols defense that won't allow many opportunities.
Key Matchup: Vols Running Game vs. Akron Defense
Tennessee has been able to run the ball considerably better than many analysts expected it to before the season, and the Vols should be able to run free Saturday against an awful Zips run defense.
In just its first two games of the season, Akron gave up seven rushing touchdowns combined in two losses.
On the other hand, Tennessee ran free in its first two games of the season and has a lot of fresh legs at the position. Starter Rajion Neal was the only back to carry the ball more than once against Florida, and he ended up with 23 carries for 87 yards.
The Vols had four backs with at least seven carries in their 51-13 win two weeks ago over Georgia State; expect Tennessee to use a run-by-committee approach yet again when it gets out to an early lead over the Zips.
Prediction: Tennessee Cruises
It may not completely heal the wounds suffered in their loss to the Florida Gators last week, but the Vols will hang a bunch of touchdowns on the Zips early and take out their frustration.
Bray will come out hot and scorch the secondary before sitting much of the second half with a massive lead.
The Vols will allow a few scoring plays from Akron as they figure out how to assemble their defense without Randolph, but it won't come anywhere close to putting the game in danger.
Tennessee 62, Akron 13
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