Neyland Stadium is one of college football’s most renowned locations. Home to the Tennessee Volunteers, it’s the eighth biggest stadium in the world and has hosted events big enough to draw the attendance of presidents like Richard Nixon. On Saturday, it will be the spot for UConn football’s bout against the No. 17 Volunteers in a game that will likely be much less interesting than the venue’s history.
Tennessee was just announced as the No. 17 team in the first edition of the College Football Playoff preseason rankings. Though they are all but out of contention for any championships, they are still an excellent football team.
The Volunteers handled overmatched Virginia and FCS Austin Peay squads to start their campaign. Traveling to Florida ultimately proved to be too big a test, as they lost following a 20-0 second quarter by the Gators. A win over UTSA was just what the doctor ordered before they returned to SEC play.
The Vols jumped all over an unusually poor South Carolina team, winning by three scores before overcoming a halftime deficit to beat Texas A&M. Then came an away game at No. 11 Alabama. Up 13-0 halfway through the second quarter, things were looking promising, but the Crimson Tide jumped on Tennessee for 27 straight points. This will be UConn’s second opponent of the season that lost to Alabama by exactly 14 points. The Volunteers followed that breakdown with a tight win at Kentucky and now stand at 6-2.
Trying to replace the magic that former QB Hendon Hooker brought to the program last year has proved impossible, but QB Joe Milton III has done a pretty good job picking up the slack. The sixth-year student began the season as a major threat on the ground, but hasn’t been able to put together too much scoring there since. In his first four games he scored four times, including an electric 81-yarder against UTSA. His yardage has been inconsistent, but he has routinely been able to string together at least a few decent carries every game, while minimizing sacks.
Through the air, Milton has been serviceable, but nothing special. He’s thrown for just 1,763 yards, which barely puts him in the top 50 nationally. He hasn’t had a game with more than two scores, but has thrown for at least one in each contest. Milton also has tossed just four interceptions on the season. All of this to say that he is reliable. It’s not common for him to put up insane numbers, but he simultaneously limits his mistakes.
The Volunteers have a split rushing attack, with three different key players. Jaylen Wright will deservingly draw the start with seven yards per carry, totaling 713 yards on the campaign. Jabari Small has drawn 20 fewer carries and has only accounted for 415 yards. Small and Wright’s production have been great, but Dylan Sampson has a nose for the end-zone, with seven touchdowns, more than the other two combined.
For UConn, the player to watch will be Camryn Edwards. Though the Huskies haven’t been performing great this year, Edwards has been a bright spot. The former DB has worked his way into the picture thanks to his effort and departures, but took over lead-back duties for the game against South Florida. Since then, Edwards has been great, combining for 288 yards and three touchdowns. He’s fast, tough and hasn’t turned the ball over, qualities that come at a premium for running backs. Tennessee conversely has a top 25 rush defense. Has Edwards success been a product of facing rush defenses that rank in the bottom half of the FBS or is he the real deal?
The matchup as a whole should be lopsided. ESPN Bet has Tennessee listed as 36 point favorites. It’ll also be the Vols’ homecoming game, which will likely draw a good crowd. When a mostly unstoppable force meets a very moveable object, the outcome isn’t in much doubt. Maybe UConn will pull something crazy like its opening kick return against Clemson a few years back, but don’t expect a win.
The contest will kick off at 12 p.m. and can be viewed on SEC Network.