🏈 Tennessee's Fixer Upper

How the Vols can get back on track

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • What’s ailing Tennessee and how the Vols fix it

  • Addressing the Vols’ offensive line beyond 2023

  • The Coach Prime effect on college football

  • What it means to wear the T from a player’s perspective

BACK TO WORK FOR HEUPEL’S VOLS

It’s time for Tennessee’s get-right game.

The Vols have not looked great the last two weeks.

Tennessee is coming off a disappointing (to put it mildly) loss at Florida.

And the week before, Tennessee looked ugly in its 30-13 win against Austin Peay.

The Vols have one more shot at working on themselves this week with UTSA in town.

📍 Neyland Stadium
4:00 p.m. ET
📺 SEC Network
📻 99.1 The Sports Animal/WIVK

To be clear, this is not an automatic win for Tennessee.

The Vols will need to focus against a team that will contend to win the American Athletic Conference.

But Tennessee has superior talent and will have no excuse if the Roadrunners win.

UTSA has a 1-2 record on the season with losses to Houston and Army.

UTSA quarterback Frank Harris missed the Army game due to a turf toe injury last Friday and is questionable this week.

With or without Harris, Tennessee should win this game — by a lot of points.

How do the Vols make that happen?

Get back to being the offense we have known under Josh Heupel.

That doesn’t mean every element will be the same as last year.

It can’t when the personnel is as different as it is.

Hendon Hooker is gone.

So are wide receiver Jalin Hyatt and offensive linemen Jerome Carvin and Darnell Wright.

Tennessee has felt their absences so far this season.

The Vols need to start by fixing mistakes that have plagued them the last two weeks.

Pre-snap penalties have to stop.

Tennessee’s tempo has been inconsistent at best.

Milton and his receivers still have work to do in the passing game after showing improvement at Florida.

➡️ Quick side note: You might be wondering if we’ll see freshman QB Nico Iamaleava push Milton for the starting spot.

Offensive coordinator Joey Halzle shot down that idea at his press conference this week.

Watch Halzle’s response here when he was asked about Iamaleava.

Will we see a QB controversy this season?

We might. That’s what Halzle was trying to avoid with his answer.

There are more layers to unfold to diagnose the problems with Tennessee's offense.

Tennessee needs Cooper Mays back at center.

We’ll see if that happens this week.

There’s also the subject of the defense.

This newsletter led off by talking about the offense like most conversations over the last few days.

But Tennessee’s first-half defense against Florida was troubling.

A lot of that was due to tackling… or the lack of it.

Here’s the most common question of the week: will Kamal Hadden start again at cornerback?

The answer: maybe?

Senior transfer Gabe Jeudy-Lally will continue to play a big role at cornerback. And he should.

Doneiko Slaughter could be available, but that looks like a game-time decision.

Tennessee has other senior options, but what a lot of fans want to see is youth.

Tennessee’s veteran options have been part of UT’s secondary issues for multiple seasons (besides Jeudy-Lally).

Fans want to see young players get a shot.

That’s understandable.

Will that fix Tennessee’s issues on defense?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But veterans repeating mistakes will drive fans crazy — and should lead to coaches considering a change.

We talked more about Tennessee’s defensive issues, including in the secondary, with VFL and former NFL cornerback Jonathan Wade.

Check out our Cover Tuesday segment below. ⬇️⬇️

TENNESSEE’S BIGGEST PROBLEM

This isn’t last year’s offensive line

Tennessee has a short- and long-term issue to address on the offensive line.

The Vols haven’t been close to good enough up front this season.

That can change, especially when Mays returns.

He’s so important for the Vols’ O-line.

Mays is only one person, too.

The entire unit has to play better. Perhaps Gerald Mincey playing more at right tackle will help.

But here’s another part of the concern: Tennessee’s offensive line is struggling with a bunch of veteran players.

Here’s the list of guys who make up the two-deep on UT’s offensive line.

John Campbell Jr. — Senior
Jeremiah Crawford — Senior
Dayne Davis — Senior
Jackson Lampley — Senior
Ollie Lane — Senior
Cooper Mays — Senior (Has yet to play this season)
Javontez Spraggins — Senior
Andrej Karic — Junior
Gerald Mincey — Junior (Fourth Year)

We aren’t talking about freshmen and sophomores struggling.

These are veterans.

And most of them will be gone after this season.

So where will that leave Tennessee on the offensive line next year?

Looking for more help.

We asked Austin Price or Volquest this week how Tennessee will try to improve the offensive line next season.

“I think where Tennessee’s gotta be very diligent, very as coach Heupel would say ‘intentional,’ is they’re working the transfer portal on the offensive line. I think that’s something where Tenneseee is gonna need at least three — if not four or five — in my opinion. And I think that’s where Tennessee will have to swing big. Go out and swing big in the transfer portal and hope you can land some guys that can come in and play for you and help right away.”

Finding 3-5 quality offensive linemen in the transfer portal?

That’s a BIG ask.

Every lineman that Tennessee targets will be on the radar of almost every program in the nation, including Tennessee’s opponents.

Before you slam the panic button, Tennessee’s young linemen still have time to improve.

It’s way too early to write off the freshman class.

The Vols also have several commitments on the offensive line for the 2024 class.

But the early impression of next year’s offensive line does not offer a promising result.

Figuring out the offensive line must top Heupel’s to-do list for 2024.

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 Tennessee-UTSA will feature the first Spanish audio broadcast in UT sports history.

🏈 CFB analyst Joel Klatt says Tennessee fans were duped into thinking the program was back to being elite — when it was last year’s top players who were really elite.

🏈 How would you rank the performance of Tennessee's transfers so far? Here's a ranking from the Vols’ first three games.

🏈 This weekend will feature several high-profile college football games. Here’s a look at unbeaten teams with a lot on the line.

🏈 The Dallas Cowboys have lost star cornerback Trevon Diggs for the season due to a torn ACL.

🏀 Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes received a contract extension through the 2027-28 season this week.

🏀 The 2023 Maui Jim Invitational will relocate to Honolulu this year as the Maui wildfire relief efforts continue. Tennessee will play in this year’s tournament.

💰 The crown prince of Saudi Arabia said he’s unfazed by claims of sportswashing.

⚾ The Atlanta Braves added a few more milestones to their season this week.

PRIME’S TIME

People can’t stop watching (or talking about) Colorado football.

The Buffaloes are 3-0 and much improved from their 1-11 season a year ago.

But it’s all about their coach.

Deion Sanders aka Coach Prime has everyone talking about Colorado.

Colorado has sold out all of its tickets for this season for the first time in school history.

Look at these viewership numbers from last week’s Colorado-Colorado State game, which kicked off after 10 p.m. on the East Coast.

Who knows how the rest of the season will go for Colorado?

The Buffaloes will face much tougher competition the rest of the way, starting with Oregon this week.

But the team has something to believe in with its 3-0 start.

Quarterback Shedeur Sanders, Deion’s son, has made the team a bigger threat on the field.

Two-way star Travis Hunter, who will miss some time after an unfortunate late hit last week, has elevated Colorado’s recruiting profile.

We’ll find out how many more games Colorado will win this year.

But we already know this: people will be watching.

ONE LAST BYTE OUT THE DOOR

Most of the conversation this week focused on Tennessee’s loss at Florida and how the Vols can get back on track.

Thursday’s show went in a different direction during the first segment of our third hour.

A listener stopped by while we were at SmartBank in Alcoa.

She asked if we could mention her papaw, a long-time Tennessee fan and listener of The Sports Animal.

We were happy to do it, which led to a longer discussion about the connection between Tennessee football and its fanbase.

Jayson Swain provided a great perspective on his time as a player at UT and what he’s learned about the importance of Tennessee football since his playing career ended.

“I get a chance to experience and hear all these stories and how much Tennessee means to fans,” Swain said. “It’s really powerful.”

Check out the full segment below. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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