The Fearless Prediction started the 2023 season by making the call in the Tennessee/Virginia game. We picked the Vols to beat the Cavaliers, knowing full well that we would be alone on an island with that bold prognostication.

But as they say, scared money doesn’t make money.

(Editor’s note: Everyone picked Tennessee to win that game. The Fearless Prediction is full of malarkey.)

Like the Vols, the Fearless Prediction looks to improve to 2-0 this week when Tennessee hosts Austin Peay.

Against Virginia, the Tennessee offense picked up where it left off last season, racking up 499 yards and 49 points. UT QB Joe Milton completed 70% of his passes, gained a combined 241 yards (201 through the air, 40 on the ground) and produced 2 passing TDs and 2 rushing TDs. Milton is a 6th-year college QB who is now in his 3rd season in Josh Heupel’s offensive system. The experience shows.

Ten Vols caught at least 1 pass in that game. The deep ball was pretty much non-existent, with Ramel Keyton’s grab of 41 yards in the 2nd quarter the only reception over 16 yards. The Vols running back group of Jaylen Wright, Jabari Small and Dylan Sampson combined for 234 yards, with Sampson scoring 4 times.

The Vols’ 5-star backup QB, Nico Iamaleava, also got in the game, leading a TD drive in the 4th quarter.

This offense can beat you in many ways. It’s worked everywhere Heupel has been and shows no signs of slowing down.

Here’s the other thing … the Tennessee defense appears to have taken a step forward this offseason. The unit had 4 sacks and 11 tackles for loss against the Cavaliers. Transfers Keenan Pili (BYU) and Omar Norman-Lott (Arizona State) each had 4 tackles, as did freshman Arion Carter.

This defense has more depth and what seems like more speed than what we saw the first 2 seasons under defensive coordinator Tim Banks. That will serve Tennessee well as the season continues.

Offense and defense look fine, but the Vols special teams are a work in progress, and that’s being kind. Josh Turbyville now handles kickoffs, and he shanked 2 of them out of bounds. Redshirt freshman Jackson Ross now handles punts, and he looked shaky, with 1 effort that went for only 17 yards and another for 27. Similar problems won’t have an effect on the final result this Saturday, but it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

Tennessee has considerably more talent than Austin Peay, as it should considering the Governors are an FCS team. Austin Peay was picked to finish 3rd in the United Athletic Conference. They opened their season with a 49-23 loss to Southern Illinois in Carbondale. The Governors trailed 42-3 in the 4th quarter before 2 TD passes from QB Mike Diliello and a TD run from CJ Evans Jr. made the score a little more respectable. Redshirt sophomore WR Kam Thomas made 5 catches for 72 yards and a score, but there’s no one on that side of the football that should test UT.

On defense, Norfolk State transfer linebacker Tyler Long was busy, collecting 16 tackles against the Salukis. Fellow LB Sam Howard had 10 stops in that game. Both of those guys are going to be called on again to limit the damage brought forth by the Vols running game.

Tennessee has already begun preparations for the Florida game on Sept. 16. The Vols know that barring a 2019 Georgia State type performance, they won’t be pushed very much by the Governors. Heupel will try to get his key guys off the field as quickly as possible to avoid injuries. This game will be the final tune-up before the contests that really matter for the Vols.

Neyland Stadium will be loud and proud in the Vols’ 2023 home opener.

Fearless Prediction time …

Tennessee 59, Austin Peay 6