The Tennessee Vols, a team that has its sights set on winning at least 10 games and making a run in the SEC East, completely dominated the Akron Zips on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium, winning 63-6.

Tennessee is now 3-0 after playing a quarter of their schedule. Getting through the first three weeks of the schedule (which included a tough road game against Pittsburgh) unscathed was Josh Heupel’s first test of the season. And he passed it.

The real test, however, begins next Saturday in Knoxville when the Vols host the Florida Gators.

Tennessee is going to be favored against Florida (some lines already have the Vols as a seven-point favorite). To say this is a must-win game for Heupel and UT would be an understatement. It’s easily going to be the biggest game Tennessee has played in Knoxville since 2016 when they hosted the Gators.

And fortunately for the Vols, their win against Akron is going to help prepare them for the matchup against Florida.

Tennessee Vols
Tennessee running back Patrick Wilk (35) runs the ball as Akron defensive back KJ Martin (15) defends during a game between Tennessee and Akron at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022.
Kns Utvakron0917

There are two ways, specifically, that the game against Akron better prepared Tennessee for the Gators.

For starters, Akron quarterback DJ Irons was the Zips’ best player. He’s a dynamic quarterback who could possibly be in the SEC next year thanks to the transfer portal (ESPN commentator Aaron Murray, a former Georgia quarterback, repeatedly brought up during the game that Irons will likely transfer before the 2023 season).

Tennessee did an excellent job against Irons, limiting him to just four yards on the ground. Irons passed for 241 yards, but he was never able to get Akron into the end zone.

Vols teams of the past still would’ve beat Akron, but they likely would’ve struggled to contain Irons. Not only was this game a nice “warm-up” for Tennessee’s matchup against Anthony Richardson and the Gators, but it showed us that UT’s defense has improved greatly since last season.

The other way this game will help Tennessee against Florida was just the general tone of the night.

Things got chippy on the field between Akron and UT — especially in the second half.

Vols wide receiver Jimmy Calloway was ejected from the game after throwing several punches. And Akron players were hitting Tennessee players low all night (one of those hits led to an injury for Vols star wide receiver Cedric Tillman, who left the game and didn’t return).

Heupel said after the game that it was one of the chippiest games he’s been a part of. He also pointed out that he noticed the low hits.

“Yeah, there were a few low hits tonight,” said Heupel after the win. “You don’t know, in this game, what happened. I say that meaning what is the extent of it. As I went over, he (Tillman) started getting up. So we’ll find out more here.”

“It was one of the chippiest games that I’ve been a part of,” added Heupel. “Certainly that we’ve been a part of here.”

The atmosphere for the Akron game was incredible, but it’ll be a different world for the Florida game. The action on the field will be different, too. Florida/Tennessee is an intense rivalry that has the potential to get very chippy.

Tennessee will need to be disciplined. A personal foul or a late-hit penalty could lose the game for either team.

The fact that the Vols were part of a “chippy” game against Akron will provide plenty of learning moments and better prepare Tennessee for a similar game against Florida.

I know there usually isn’t much to take away from a game against an overmatched team like Akron. But I think the Vols’ game against Akron was probably the best possible “tune-up” game Tennessee could’ve had before playing Florida.

Featured image via Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK