On paper, Week 1 was obviously slightly more kind to the BYU football team than it was to Tennessee.
Yes, the Cougars suffered a painful 30-12 loss to rival Utah at home, but the Utes are ranked No. 14 in the nation and expected to have a good season.
The Volunteers, on the other hand, dropped a 38-30 decision to a Georgia State team that was 2-10 in 2018. It was a crushing defeat for a Tennessee program trying to regain national prominence.
Since the results from the season-openers for both BYU and Tennessee are now history, the big question is which team will be able to get things on track in Week 2.
“You come off a loss and you can take one of two reactions,” BYU senior linebacker Zayne Anderson said earlier this week. “You can put your head down and get down on yourself as a team but that’s not what we do here. We put that behind us. We all realize we could’ve done a little more last we. We don’t feel we executed what we are supposed to do, so there is regret but you have to move on. In this game, you always get that next chance. This week, we have a chance to prove we are a really good team.”
The Cougar players and coaches expect the Volunteers to also be a very different team with the two teams square off on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“Each week is different,” BYU sophomore center James Empey said. “You expect to get each opponent’s best shot every week. They got Georgia State’s best shot last week and they’re going to give us their best shot, so we have to give them our best shot this week. We have to be ready to go to work. I don’t think you can bank on anything based on what happened last week. I think Tennessee is a really good team and I think they just got woken up so we have to be on our best game when Saturday comes.”
Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake said that in watching Tennessee it’s clear the caliber of players the Volunteers put on the field.
“They have a great coaching staff and they’re going to have that team ready to roll,” Sitake said. “When you watch them on film, you can’t help but notice that they have a lot of athleticism and size. There’s a lot of great-looking athletes on the field. There were just a lot of bad things that happened at the wrong time for those guys.”
Both teams can point directly at points-off-turnovers as the reason for defeat, since BYU was minus-20 in that category in an 18-point loss and Tennessee was minus-14 in an 8-point loss.
That means both squads will have put added emphasis on ball security. It remains to be seen which will take that to heart.
“It’s going to be which team learned the most and executes cleanly,” Sitake said. “I know they’re going to be focused on us like we’re going to be focused on them. There’s some things that they’re embarrassed with from that first week and so are we. Only one team is going to win this week and it’ll be who is most prepared and motivated.”
The BYU offense and sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson knows the Volunteers will be hoping the Cougars make more costly mistakes.
“They have a really good defense,” Wilson said. “They have a lot athletes, and it will be a critical week for us to make sure that we are dialed in and have everyone know their assignments and making the plays we need to make. They’re a really good and talented team, and it’s a great opportunity for us. We have to go in there knowing we can face them and beat them. It’s all about executing and making sure we are doing our jobs.”
Execution is always the key message when a team is looking to improve but that’s not always easy to do in a game of adrenaline and emotion. Anderson said that finding the right balance is why players talk so much about practice.
“Your preparation before the game is when all the mental stuff happens,” Anderson said. “You get the reps and the film in your head. By the time you are on the field, you know what you are supposed to do. After that, in the game, that’s where instincts take over to go make the play. Execution starts with preparation.”
He said he expects both teams to show much better in that part of the game on Saturday, which is why is should be a great contest in a great venue.
“Everyone can have a bad game,” Anderson said. “We think they are a really good team. It’s going to be a good challenge for us. You might look and see they lost but that doesn’t really matter. We have to do our job. We look forward to these games and I feel like we play well on the road in those big venues. I’m excited.”