Vols seek 11th straight Neyland victory at the expense of UTSA

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee senior running back Jabari Small expressed a lot of respect for UTSA but said that Saturday's game is more about what the Volunteers do following last week's loss at Florida.

The Tennessee Volunteers aren't sure which University of Texas at San Antonio quarterback they will face Saturday afternoon inside Neyland Stadium.

Or which Tennessee team will show up.

After closing last season with a 56-0 rout at Vanderbilt and a 31-14 thumping of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, and after opening this season with a 49-13 thrashing of Virginia in Nashville, the Vols have gone flat in a 30-13 struggle with Austin Peay and last weekend's 29-16 loss at Florida. Tennessee's 46 points against the Governors and Gators represent the lowest two-game total of the Josh Heupel era.

Tennessee's third-year head coach obviously would love for the Vols to get back on track from a communication and an execution standpoint.

"There are subtle things that we do," Heupel said this week in a news conference. "At the end of the day, how we've operated offensively, defensively and on special teams — we've done that at a high level. Guys have got to take ownership of it and make sure that we are in sync."

The No. 23 Vols are colliding with the Roadrunners, who are off to a 1-2 start with a loss to Houston, a win over Texas State and a loss to Army. UTSA is vying in its first year in the American Athletic Conference after winning the past two Conference USA championships.

In their marquee matchups under fourth-year coach Jeff Traylor, the Roadrunners lost to Brigham Young 27-20 in 2020, defeated Illinois 37-30 in 2021 and lost to Texas 41-20 last year.

"Tennessee has as much NFL talent that we've ever played since we've been here," Traylor said in a news conference. "We know what we're going against. We're not going over there to run a bunch of gadgets. We're going over there to play football."

When asked what a win over the Vols would mean to the UTSA program, Traylor said, "It would make us 2-2."

UTSA fifth-year senior quarterback Frank Harris was the 2022 Conference USA player of the year but suffered a turf toe injury against North Texas and missed last week's game. Redshirt sophomore Eddie Lee Marburger got the start against the Cadets and completed 17 of 25 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns.

Traylor said the availability of Harris against the Vols would be a game-time decision.

"They're a little bit different, but at the end of the day, you've got to prepare for both of them," Heupel said. "At the end of the day, it's a lot about us, too. The things that we struggled with last week — we've got to be disciplined and then go make plays.

"That comes down to winning one-on-one situations."

An eighth consecutive Neyland sellout crowd will witness whether Tennessee can win an eighth straight contest against nonconference opposition and prevail for an 11th time in a row in its 101,915-seat facility. The Vols are 44-4 all-time against teams currently in the AAC, losing to Tulane in 1924, Rice in 1946, North Texas in 1975 and Memphis in 1996.

This is the first meeting between the Vols and the Roadrunners. SEC Network will televise the 4 p.m. game.

"They are a good team," Tennessee senior running back Jabari Small said. "It's about what we do at the end of the day, not so much what they do, but we know we have our work out for us. They are a good team, so we don't want to overlook anything about them."

Contact David Paschall at [email protected].