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Preview: Tennessee vs. Chattanooga

Todd Kelly Jr-1-3Chattanooga (3-2) at Tennessee (2-3)

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, Tenn.

TV: SEC Network

Series Record: Tennessee leads 37-2-2 

 Setting the table

After a 45-year hiatus, the Vols and Mocs will meet up again in football. Located just under two hours from each other and part of the same University system, UT and UTC share some similarities, but are much different on the gridiron. The Mocs have found some recent success in the FCS’s Southern Conference, claiming a co-championship last year. Tennessee, meanwhile, is trying to find its way back to relevancy in the toughest FBS league in the nation, and faced a tough setback in a 10-9 loss to struggling rival Florida last week. The Mocs will be looking to make a statement to the nation while the Vols need their young team to keep progressing with several difficult SEC games on the horizon and the chance to return to a bowl game still in play.

 Who has the edge?

 When Tennessee throws…

The Vols should be able to move the ball through the air basically at will. The Mocs have a few talented FCS-level DBs, but they’ll struggle to cover Marquez North, Pig Howard, Josh Malone, Von Pearson, Jason Croom and the rest of UT’s talented group of receivers. One of the few questions coming Jalen Hurd-1into this game for the Vols is if they’ll be able to consistently block UTC’s defensive line. The Mocs aren’t anywhere in the same league as Florida up front, but defensive end Davis Tull, a Knoxville native, is a potential future NFL player. Add in a couple FBS transfers for the Mocs and UT’s inexperienced offensive line can’t take the day off if the Vols are going to give Worley enough time to connect down the field. Edge: Tennessee

When Tennessee runs…

Regardless who ends up taking the bulk of the carries for the Vols, they still should have their best effort on the ground of the season. Look for a big day from true freshman Derrell Scott, who is finally healthy and will have a chance to show what he can do. Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane are both available for this game, but expect Butch Jones to manage both of their workloads with both somewhat banged up. Look for a few long runs, especially if the backs can get to the second level of the defense on a consistent basis. Edge: Tennessee

When Chattanooga throws…

The Mocs aren’t known for airing it out. Quarterback Jacob Huesman averages just 136.2 yards of passing per game and no individual receiver has more than 182 yards this season. Tight end Faysal Shafaat is among their most talented players on the roster. Receiver Tommy Hudson can be dangerous with the ball in his hands. But passing yardage has been hard to come by against the Vols this season. Tennessee is third in the SEC in passing defense, holding opponents to 173 yards per game. Edge: Tennessee 

When Chattanooga runs…

It could be the Jacob Huesman show on the ground. The quarterback and head coach’s son is the team’s second-leading rusher behind Keon Williams, who won’t play in this game due to an injury. So expect Huesman to carry the ball early and often, especially after seeing Florida have some success on designed runs with the QB. It’ll be running-back-by-committee with not much experience to go around. Expect Huesman to have a few nice runs, but the Mocs won’t get to their average of 174.4 yards per game on the ground. Edge: Tennessee 

Special teams…

The Mocs are respectable in the kicking game. Nick Pollard, a rugby-style punter, is second in the Southern Conference in punting average (41.5 yards). Kicker Henrique Ribeiro is perfect on the year (5/5) on field goals. But Tennessee’s overall edge in athleticism will show up in this phase of the game. The Vols will have a good chance for at least one nice return and they should control the field position for much of the game. Edge: Tennessee 

 What UTC is thinking

We know this is a money game at the end of the day, but we’re traveling up I-75 with the intentions of competing with the Vols. Our defensive line is going to cause them some problems. We might can rush a throw or two and get an interception or maybe sack and strip Justin Worley – giving our offense some field position or even some points. Huesman will find some room in the run game and will hit enough passes to keep the Vols off balance. We’ll shorten the game, keep the ball and turn the clock into our ally. We’ll keep it within two scores late and then see what happens.

 What Tennessee is thinking

Last week was demoralizing. There’s no way around it. But it’s in the past now and this is our first chance to take some frustration out against an overmatched opponent. They have a few good players, but they can’t hang with us if we take care of our business. We’ll respect them, make sure Tull is blocked and key in on Huesman when we’re on defense. If we do all that, we’ll have this one firmly in control by halftime and we’ll get some young guys in there.

 What RTI is thinking

We wouldn’t be surprised to see UTC make a few plays here and there. The Vols might need a wake-up call early in the game, but Tennessee is the better team in every aspect and anything but a convincing victory would be disappointing. Tennessee can’t erase last weekend with a win on Saturday, though this young team can gain some confidence going forward if everything clicks.

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