Daniel’s Pick: Every week is a new challenge in college football. And for a young team like Tennessee, there will always be questions. How will they respond to a shorter week of prep? Can they build on their performance against Utah State instead of resting on their laurels?
Arkansas State, another program used to winning, comes to Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon and it’ll be a chance for the Vols to take another step as a program. The crowd might not be as raucous. The hype for this game isn’t as high overall. But Tennessee still needs to play at a fairly high level to take care of business on Saturday. Arkansas State has several weapons that can hurt Tennessee. Quarterback Fredi Knighten will pull the ball down and gain some yardage in the run game. And if Tennessee keys on that too much, he can throw it over their heads. Defensively, Arkansas State should have a better secondary than Utah State and that will be a good test for UT’s passing game – especially the more vertical aspect of it – as the Vols continue to develop it.
Expect Tennessee to run the football better as well. Though the run game may never be the strength of this team, the Vols need to get their average up around 4.0 yards per carry or more going forward. I think they get that done on Saturday. All in all, Tennessee must be locked in on Saturday for this to be a comfortable outcome. I think it will be, but ASU will be ready to make it interesting if the Vols are sloppy.
Pick: Tennessee 35-14
MVP: RG Jashon Robertson
You didn’t see that one coming, did you? I liked a lot of what I saw on film from the freshman against Utah State. He looked like anything but a true freshman who has only been playing offense for less than a month. He was strong at the point of attack, got to the second level and had a very solid debut overall. But I’m also picking him as a representative of the offensive line as a whole. I think it gets better push this week, tightens up in pass protection and gains some confidence going forward. Tennessee will be more “efficient” in the run game as Butch Jones has been harping on all week and that will help the Vols take care of business on Saturday.
Houston’s Pick: Tennessee took away a lot of positives from their week-one win over Utah State, as they should have, but also showed plenty of room for improvement. The Vols were sloppy at times offensively and struggled to settle into any real rhythm in either the passing or running games. Things looked god for the Vols defensively outside of a few missed tackles and a two-play, 75-yard touchdown drive surrendered in the fourth quarter.
Against Arkansas State, Tennessee must be very disciplined on defense. The Red Wolves are extremely fast-paced and try to confuse defenses with misdirection and multiple-option plays such as the option, zone-read and/or run-pass option plays that have become so popular recently. ASU quarterback Fredi Knighten will likely provide some challenges for the Vols with his ability to use his feet to avoid defenders, extend plays and get the ball downfield. For all of the hype that Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton received leading into last Sunday’s game, he was never able to put the type of pressure on Tennessee’s defense that Knighten should be able to this weekend.
Offensively, Tennessee must continue to build on the framework that they laid last weekend. The Vols were able to get some solid production in the passing game by having Justin Worley quickly distribute short, simple passes to his deep and talented receiving corps – a feat that they’ll look to replicate against Arkansas State. Where they didn’t gain any production was on attempted deep shots downfield. The Vols connected on zero of their six shots down the field against Utah State and will certainly look to better that number against the Red Wolves. The running game must also take a huge leap forward this week after averaging a paltry 2.8 yards per carry last Sunday.
Arkansas State is a better team that Utah State, but I think the Vols will come out more prepared and play much better than they did in the opener. The first game jitters should be gone and the week of preparations to fix minor mistakes should help smooth out the wrinkles we saw Sunday.
Pick: Tennessee: 41-17
MVP: Receiver Josh Malone
It was clear in watching last week’s game that Malone is Tennessee’s top target when they look to take a shot down the field. While last week’s attempts all fell incomplete, a week of focus dedicated to fixing the problems that lead to those incompletions should yield much better results against Arkansas State. I’d expect Malone to put up over 100 yards receiving and a touchdown or two this week as the coaches will almost certainly look to make sure that their team has the ability to complete these big plays, while also looking to help Malone gain some confidence before they hit the meat of the schedule.
Reed’s Pick: Lets start with a little history. The Vols are undefeated all time against Sun Belt opponents, despite nearly losing to South Alabama in Neyland last year, and SEC teams are 108-7 all time against the Sun Belt. That said, Arkansas State is no slouch. They’re definitely more talented than the South Alabama team that came in here last season and gave Vol nation a scare. The Red Wolves went 8-5 last year (with a bowl win) and bring back 12 starters from that team, eight of which were all-conference players. They’ve won 28 games the last three seasons and have won three-straight conference championships.
Tennessee opened this one as a 14-point favorite and that line has since moved to 17 points. That sounds about right. When comparing them to Utah State, it’s clear Arkansas State will bring more speed to the field. The Vols defense will have to play disciplined, assignment football or Arkansas State will cause them some problems. Don’t expect the Vols to flirt with a shutout this week. Arkansas State QB Fredi Knighten is talented enough to break a couple big plays and receiver J.D. McKissic is a weapon on the outside. Last season, they averaged around 200 yards per game both on the ground and through the air. They’re balanced attack combined with the talent they have at the skill positions will give the Vol defense a test, which is a good thing headed into Oklahoma week.
The Red Wolves look to be better than Utah State at every position but defensive tackle, where they’re replacing three of their top four players, so the Vol rushing attack should find some room to run this week after averaging a paltry 2.8 yards per carry against the Aggies. As I’ll write most weeks, their secondary won’t be able to slow Tennessee’s passing attack as long as Worley is accurate with the football.
Tough Arkansas State will give the Vols a test, Tennessee outclasses them at every position. This one could be close for a few quarters, but the young Vols showed last week they have the talent and mental fortitude to put an opponent like Arkansas State away.
Pick: Volunteers, 44-20
MVP: Cornerback Cameron Sutton
Is there a more underrated defensive player in this league than Cam Sutton? He’ll shut down one side of the field again this week and Fredi Knighten would be wise to not throw his way. The Red Wolves like to attack the edge so look for Sutton to make a couple of big plays against the run as well. If he gets a punt he can return, look out, he could house it.