After both teams suffered disappointing losses in their openers — particularly in Tennessee’s case — one of them is about to remain winless two weeks into the season.
That scenario raises the stakes for when these storied programs face off for the first time Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN) at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee hasn’t started a season 0-2 since dropping its first six games in 1988; BYU hasn’t opened 0-2 since 1995.
“There’s some things that they’re embarrassed with in that first week just like we are,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “Only one team’s going to win this week, and I think it’s going to be the one that’s best prepared and motivated.”
BYU opened the season with a 30-12 setback against No. 13 Utah, the ninth straight year the Cougars have lost to their biggest rival.
At least BYU fell to a Top 25 team.
Tennessee lost its opener 38-30 to 26-point underdog Georgia State, a Sun Belt Conference program coming off a 2-10 season.
The Vols want to show that one outing doesn’t define a season, no matter how miserable that performance may have been. Tennessee is a 3½-point favorite Saturday.
“I didn’t sign up for a one-game fight, you know,” Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings said. “This is a 12-game fight.”
Both teams would actually prefer to play at least 13 games this season, but the road to bowl eligibility is challenging for any team that starts out 0-2. That’s why neither team can afford to dwell on its missed opportunities from a week ago.
Tennessee offensive lineman Ryan Johnson, who describes himself as a history buff, made that point clear this week.
“I think we can learn a lot of things from Georgia State,” he said. “But it’s important to remember, not just in football but in life, you’ve got to focus on what’s up next. You’ve got to focus on the present because if you keep dwelling on the past, you’re going to repeat the past.”
Some other things to watch when Tennessee hosts BYU.
Both teams must take better care of the ball.
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns by Utah.
Tennessee committed three turnovers that led to 17 Georgia State points. Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw for 311 yards but had a fumble and an interception in the fourth quarter.
BYU shouldn’t be awed by its surroundings at 102,455-seat Neyland Stadium.
The Cougars went 2-2 in road games against Power Five teams last year, including a 24-21 victory at Wisconsin when the Badgers were ranked sixth.
WILLIAMS RETURNS TO SEC COUNTRY
Cougars running back Ty’Son Williams is a South Carolina graduate transfer who has played against Tennessee twice before. Williams totaled 24 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown in those two games.
Williams ran for 45 yards and a TD on seven attempts against Utah.
SLOWING THE RUN
Both teams allowed opponents to run effectively last week.
BYU allowed Utah to rush for 262 yards on 48 carries. The Utes’ Zack Moss ran for 187 yards.
Tennessee was outrushed 213-93 by Georgia State, including 160-(minus-2) in the second half. Tennessee has no returning starters on its defensive line.
The Vols’ defense could get a boost if linebacker Daniel Bituli returns after missing the opener with a knee injury. Bituli led Tennessee in tackles in 2017 and 2018.
Tennessee has a talented receiving corps featuring seniors Marquez Callaway and Jennings, each of whom caught a touchdown pass last week. Jennings had a career-high seven receptions for 108 yards and the TD was the 11th of his career.
This game also showcases two quality tight ends.
BYU’s Matt Bushman had six catches for 62 yards against Utah. Tennessee’s Dominick Wood-Anderson caught three passes for 79 yards against Georgia State.
The Vols and Cougars have never met on the football field.
Tennessee is scheduled to make a return trip to Provo for the second leg of its home-and-home series with BYU in 2023.