First Glance: Tennessee Tech
There’s a lot of questions surrounding Josh Heupel’s program following week two’s 41-34 loss to Pittsburgh. What’s the injury situation this week? Is there another quarterback competition? How will the penalties be addressed? What about the lack of turnovers forced?
This week is not a BYE, but it’s about the closest thing to it and a chance to reset if you’re Heupel and company.
“This defines today,” Heupel said postgame, minutes after Saturday’s defeat. “It does not define this journey that this football team is on. I think it’s important for them [team] to understand this. This is who we are in week two against Pitt.”
There’s a whole lot to be critical of in terms of missed opportunities that could have shifted momentum in the opposite direction Saturday against Pat Narduzzi’s club. The most being 13 penalties for 134 yards, three of which coming on the first offensive series of the second quarter where Tennessee had first and goal at the Pitt four and settled for a field goal.
“It surprised me. It’s not who we’ve been,” Heupel said in postgame. “There are a bunch of things that we have to be better at as competitors.”
It’s worth noting that Heupel’s 2020 UCF squad ranked 126th in the country with 9.2 penalties per game. It wasn’t much better in 2019, committing 8.7 penalties a game for 127th in FBS. Right now, it’s a trend and Tennessee’s performance in game two of the season followed suit.
“Obviously, we’ve got to be a lot smarter in the way we compete. That showed up in particular on offense and at times on defense,” Heupel explained during his Monday press conference. “The great thing about it is – as you go back and watch the tape – those are all controllables by us. We can be a smart football team.”
Tennessee Tech has the chance to be a pallet cleanser on Saturday – for penalties and other concerns. Will everything be fixed after 60 minutes? Of course not – but Tennessee can and should treat this as a glorified scrimmage, working to fix what’s been going wrong in two games.
“It’s true every week – it’s about controlling the controllables about yourself inside your program,” Heupel said Monday. “That’s where we have to get better this week as much as it’s about any opponent. As we continue to build this program, getting the foundational pieces right is really important.
“I love a lot of what we are doing. The process of leading up to kickoff in how we prepare in our mindset is something that’s got to be better.”
The Golden Eagles take exception as Dewayne Alexander’s squad prepares for the short trek east on I-40. Tennessee Tech is 0-2 on the year with losses at Samford (52-14) and to Furman (26-0).
The offense has sputtered out of the gates, averaging just a touchdown in two games with 176 yards of total offense. The FCS program has thrown for 130 yards and run for only 46 yards on average and has been held to a 24 percent clip on third downs, converting on only seven in 29 chances.
Defensively, the stats are a bit skewed thanks to the opening-week beatdown in defeat. Tech is allowing 39 points and 423 yards of total offense the other way on average while teams have worked to be balanced against them. However, the Golden Eagles were the second-best defensive squad in the Ohio Valley Conference this past [spring] season, allowing just 328 yards an outing.
Linebacker Seth Carlisle has led Tennessee Tech in tackles each of the past two seasons. He’s currently out in front with 17 stops in 2021. Two-time first-team All-OVC defensive end Chris Tucker returns, as does reigning second-team all-conference safety Josh Reliford. Cornerback Jyron Gilmore also returns to the starting lineup.
Tai Carter has shined thus far in the STAR position, forcing a fumble while adding a pair of TFLs on the season. Defensive end Devin Squires ties for the team-lead with 2.5 TFLs with a sack through two games.
Tech is multiple but shows a base 4-2-5 on film. The unit has forced one turnover while registering 13 TFLs and one sack in two games.
Offensively, the Golden Eagles will spread it out in 11 personnel a lot of the time with quarterback Davis Shanley commanding the unit. The Western Kentucky transfer has struggled, completing only 45 percent of his passes in the opening two games with four interceptions to just one touchdown.
Sophomore Willie Miller has come on in relief in both games, but filled in for an injured Bailey Fisher (who transferred to Gardner Webb) in spring and finished as the team leader in passing, second in rushing.
Both quarterbacks are used in the run game but it’s pretty much been the David Gist show early on as the junior registers 104 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown on the year. Quinton Cross had a standout spring season and currently leads the club with 10 receptions. Sophomore Justin Oden has the lone receiving touchdown for the Golden Eagles.
The offensive line has struggled to begin the season, allowing 10 sacks and 13 TFLs in two games.
You can take this game for what it is. It should be brutal. This is a bad FCS team. But it’s also a chance for Tennessee to continue to work out the kinks and figure out the depth chart and injury situation before starting a daunting Southeastern Conference slate in The Swamp the following week.
“I think everybody went out on the field today with great energy. We are excited for the next opportunity,” Heupel said Monday in conclusion. “I think they all believe we have a chance to be a good football team. We control that. We have to push forward and grow in a big way.”