Heading into the 2021 season, the Pittsburgh game looked like the crossroads contest for the Tennessee Volunteers for a bunch of reasons. Momentum. Fan support. Team psyche.

When the season ends, we very well could point back to that Panthers game as the time when things went sour.

Against Pittsburgh, Tennessee was exposed on defense, the offense made some crippling mistakes, the team was flagged way too often and the quarterback situation became unsettled to say the least.

But other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

This week, the Vols welcome FCS opponent Tennessee Tech. Always good to keep those dollars in state as the Ohio Valley foe makes the short trip to Neyland Stadium. It’s one of only a few games remaining on the schedule in which UT will be an overwhelming favorite.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel once again closed all practice to the media this week, keeping prying eyes for figuring out what in the name of Will McBride is going on at quarterback.

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Joe Milton was knocked out of the Pitt game in the first half, and didn’t look very good before he left Shields-Watkins Field. Hendon Hooker got the opportunity in relief and nearly led Tennessee to a win before a turnover on downs and a poorly thrown ball was picked off, ending the Vols’ chances of victory.

As for Harrison Bailey, I know he was on the sidelines last weekend … so yeah, he’s available. But at the present time, he doesn’t appear to be in Heupel’s plans. If Heupel is closing practice, there’s a good chance that we won’t know who will start at quarterback until the weekend.

Running back is also a concern. Tiyon Evans didn’t play against Pittsburgh and Jabari Small was knocked out by the Panthers after only 8 carries. If Evans and Small can’t play against Tennessee Tech, most of the carries should go to Jaylen Wright. Neither Small nor Wright was effective running the football this past Saturday.

Another very troubling sign is how Tennessee is losing the turnover battle. The Vols have coughed up the football 5 times and have yet to recover a fumble or intercept a pass. Those mistakes not only are costing the Tennessee offense a chance to score, but it is forcing a defense that is increasingly gassed to hop back on the field before they’ve had adequate rest.

The good news is that Tennessee Tech’s offense appears to be at a Bowling Green level. The Golden Eagles have only scored 14 points this season, both touchdowns coming against Samford. They were shut out at home against Furman.

Davis Shanley and Willie Miller share quarterbacking duties for Tennessee Tech, completing only a combined 31 passes for 260 yards and a single touchdown in the first 2 games. Tennessee’s secondary should have a fairly easy time Saturday afternoon.

Up front, the Vols got some positive news this week when it was announced that junior defensive end Byron Young is eligible to play. Young had a terrific spring and will give Tennessee’s defensive line a big shot in the arm going forward.

Next week the Vols play Florida. It’s not a game that Vols fans are looking very forward to, as UT has only beaten their division rivals once since 2005. The Vols don’t want to show the Gators too much on film, and they certainly do not want to wear out their starters Saturday. The best-case scenario will be for this game to be secured early enough to get the backups some experience while making sure their best players are only on the field as much as necessary.

Let’s go with a glass-half-full approach, people.

Fearless Prediction time …

Tennessee 52, Tennessee Tech 14