Vols aim to continue defensive intensity in Neyland opener

Tennessee Athletics photo by Kate Luffman / Tennessee defensive lineman James Pearce Jr. had two tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries in last week's 49-13 win against Virginia in Nashville. The Vols face Austin Peay on Saturday in Knoxville.

Tennessee and its top-15 national defense will face Austin Peay on Saturday afternoon inside Neyland Stadium.

Sure, it's just the one-game sample size consisting of last weekend's 49-13 thrashing of Virginia in Nashville, but the No. 9 Volunteers are rated higher defensively than offensively heading into their potential stat-padding game against the Governors. Tennessee held the Cavaliers to 201 total yards, including 106 through the air.

The Vols rank 13th nationally in pass defense after ranking 127th last year, when they allowed 289.5 aerial yards a game.

"The guys were excited to play," Tennessee third-year defensive coordinator Tim Banks said earlier this week. "We had a good camp, but it was obviously a long camp, so we had kind of been building to this for a while. I thought the overall intensity that's required to play great defense was there, and it was great to get multiple guys opportunities on the field.

"Every rep is so valuable, and some of those reps our younger guys got will pay great dividends later."

Tennessee's game against Austin Peay will kick off at 5, and it is available through the ESPN+ and SEC Network+ streaming services.

The Vols, who will wear their "Smokey Grey" uniforms but with orange on the shoulders to honor the Condredge Holloway era, are looking to smother the Governors the way they blanketed Virginia. They recorded 11 lost-yardage stops inside Nissan Stadium, which included four sacks that were evenly split between senior Tyler Baron and sophomore James Pearce Jr.

"That's obviously been an area of emphasis for us since we got here," Banks said when asked about the effectiveness of Tennessee's pass rush. "We feel like we've got some young guys who are developing quickly at a high rate, and we've got some guys who have been here and are growing as well.

"We're by no means a finished product, but we definitely like the start we had last Saturday."

Tennessee's offense racked up 499 yards against Virginia and could surpass that output against an Austin Peay team that was pummelled 49-23 last weekend at Southern Illinois. The Governors trailed 35-0 midway through the third quarter.

"This early in the year, there are so many things we needed to grow from last week," Vols head coach Josh Heupel said. "I think our guys have been intentional in that."

Austin Peay has four players from the Chattanooga area: redshirt freshman receiver Jeremiah Flemmons (East Hamilton), redshirt freshman running back Tetoe Boyd Jr. (Cleveland), freshman kicker/punter Christopher Grayson (Heritage) and freshman defensive lineman Marceo Collins (Baylor).

Contact David Paschall at [email protected].