With a season-opening victory under its belt to begin the Josh Heupel era, Tennessee football turns its attention to Saturday and the program’s upcoming non-conference matchup with Pittsburgh. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks, running backs coach Jerry Mack and select offensive players met with media Tuesday to discuss the team’s preparations for the Panthers.
Banks is game planning for a familiar opponent this week, as he squared off against Pitt four years in a row from 2016-19 during his previous stint at Penn State.
“(Pat) Narduzzi and those guys, that whole Pitt program has done a great job since those guys have been there,” Banks said. “It starts with the quarterback (Kenny Pickett). He is obviously an experienced guy. He’s played a lot of ball. He’s athletic and seems to be able to make all the plays.
“They’ve got good skill around him and a good offensive line. They look like all the teams we have seen in the past. Our kids understand it’s going to be a great challenge with those guys rolling in here and we are going to put our best foot forward to have a chance to come out victorious.”
Mack echoed Coach Heupel’s Monday comments, emphasizing Pitt’s strength and experience on the defensive line. The Vols put up 331 rushing yards in the season opener vs. Bowling Green and look to carry momentum from that performance into Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
“When I see Pitt’s defense, I see physicality and (a group that is) fundamentally sound,” Mack said. “I told guys earlier, when (Pitt is) supposed to take it on with a correct shoulder, that is what they will do. If they are supposed to fit the gap, they will fit that gap. They don’t miss a lot of open-field tackles, which is a compliment. You can see where they have been one of the best defenses at stopping the run in the country the last few years.
“I challenged (our players) to go out there and run the ball physical like we did last week, and then when we get a chance to get those explosive plays and one-on-one tackles with safeties and linebackers, we have to make somebody miss.”
Tennessee (1-0) and Pittsburgh (1-0) will kick off at noon Saturday in Neyland Stadium and will be nationally televised on ESPN. The matchup has been dubbed as the “Johnny Majors Classic,” named in honor of the late legendary head coach and player.