No. 17/19 Oklahoma (1-0) at No. 23 Tennessee (1-0)
Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, Tenn.
Series Record: Oklahoma 2-1
Setting the table
After a 34-10 loss in Norman last season, Tennessee gets a crack at the Sooners in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium. Both teams are coming off comfortable wins over MAC teams (Oklahoma 41-3 over Akron and Tennessee 59-30 over Bowling Green) and both teams need this victory for different reasons. Oklahoma faltered down the stretch last season and needs a road victory over a ranked team to send a message that they’re not going anywhere and will be a factor in the Big 12. The Vols, conversely, have looked like a different team with Joshua Dobbs and quarterback and are 5-1 in their last six games – but the Volunteers are just 1-27 in their last 28 games against ranked opponents. A win for Tennessee would solidify the perception that the Vols are ready to contend in the SEC East and could mark a turning point in the program. Oklahoma’s offense is breaking in a new quarterback and coordinator. It took their offense some time to get rolling against Akron, but once they did, they were effective through the air (388 yards passing for Baker Mayfield). Defensively, the Sooners were stout against the run last year but terrible against the pass. Tennessee’s offense was fantastic against Bowling Green’s abysmal defense last week and will be looking to replicate its success against a much better Oklahoma defense. The Vol secondary was torched by Bowling Green last week and will be looking to rebound against a revamped Sooner air raid offense.
Who has the edge
When Tennessee throws…
Tennessee didn’t show much in the passing game last week, but Dobbs was an efficient 15-22 for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Pig Howard, who was suspended for last week’s game, returns and should make a huge impact. The Sooners will be getting their first look at Von Pearson, Ethan Wolf, Jauan Jennings, Preston Williams and Joshua Dobbs. Alvin Kamara could also make an impact in the passing game. Simply put, this is a drastically different Vol passing attack than the Sooners saw in Norman last season. Oklahoma’s pass defense surrendered two dozen passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2014 and ranked second to last in the Big 12. The revamped Vol offensive line will have to protect Dobbs, but if they do, Tennessee’s passing game should test the Sooners. Edge: Tennessee
When Tennessee runs…
The Vols rushed for 399 yards against Bowling Green and looked downright unstoppable. But Bowling Green’s defense was porous (at best) and the Vols will face a much tougher test this week. Though Oklahoma’s passing defense struggled last year, their rushing defense thrived – ranking 8th nationally and surrendering just 3.0 yards per carry. Eric Striker is back as is the bulk of OU’s front seven. Jordan Phillips’ decision to leave early for the NFL leaves Oklahoma with some questions at tackle, but Charles Walker looks ready to step up in his absence – he had a big year of practice and tallied two TFLs, one sack, one hurry and forced a fumble against Akron. Hurd had some late success against Oklahoma last year and Dobbs’ presence should help open things up for Tennessee. The Sooners haven’t seen Alvin Kamara – don’t be surprised if he hits a home run at some point. The bottom line for this matchup? Tennessee’s offensive line must prove it can get a consistent push against one of the best front sevens in the country. Edge: Even
When Oklahoma throws…
The Sooner passing attack should be better this season than it was at any point last year. Baker Mayfield showed good command of the offense against Akron and a couple of JUCO transfers have solidified OU’s receiving corps. Tennessee struggled to cover Durron Neal (7 catches for 71 yards) and Sterling Shepard (5 catches for 109 yards) last season and UT’s secondary certainly struggled to defend Bowling Green’s passing attack last week. Todd Kelly Jr.’s return helps alleviate some concerns, but Oklahoma should attack Foreman, Moseley, Martin and Abernathy with Neal and Shepard whenever possible. Tennessee’s front seven should cause problems for OU’s inexperienced offensive line – pressuring Baker Mayfield would go a long way towards helping Tennessee’s defensive backs. Edge: Oklahoma
When Oklahoma runs…
The Sooners return just one full time starter on the offensive line and they struggled to get any kind of push against a bad Akron defense last weekend. Semaje Perine and Joe Mixon are dangerous, though, and Oklahoma may have been playing things close to the vest schematically. It’s simply tough to believe the best rushing offense in the Big 12 last year isn’t better than it looked against Akron (33 carries for 100 yards). Tennessee’s ability to win the game starts right here. Can they disrupt a young offensive line and limit Perine and Mixon? The Vol rushing defense wasn’t great last season – ranking ninth in the conference – and must step up and make OU one dimensional to pull off the big win. Edge: Even
On special teams…
Shepard and Neal are weapons in the return game but Tennessee was one of the better teams in the nation last year at limiting return damage. Cam Sutton and Evan Berry could be difference makers in a close game – they’re both electric and OU wasn’t immune to giving up big returns last year. Freshman kicker Austin Seibert was good from 35 yards and 41 yards last weekend in his first action, while Tennessee kicker Aaron Medley went just 1/3. Seibert averaged nearly 50 yards per punt. This will be his first road game and could lead to some struggles. Overall, give the Vols a slight edge in the return game and, with Seibert’s unproven status and Medley’s struggles last week, call the kicking game a wash. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee
What Oklahoma is thinking
We handled this team last year. In fact, we’ve played very well against SEC teams the last couple of years. We should be able to put pressure on their unproven offensive line yet again and win the line of scrimmage. Tennessee’s secondary looks shaky at best and we should be able to torch them as long as Mayfield makes good decisions. It’ll be a battle, but we have the tools to beat the Vols.
What Tennessee is thinking
It’s time for revenge. Oklahoma hasn’t seen Joshua Dobbs and they struggle to defend mobile quarterbacks. They have no idea how much better we are than when we traveled to Norman last year. Oklahoma also doesn’t know how loud and rowdy Neyland Stadium will be. Our rushing attack can attack they at the edge and our front seven should make things miserable for their offense. It’ll be a battle, but if we play our game and take care of the ball, we’ll win by at least a touchdown.
What RTI is thinking
No disrespect to last week’s game, but it’s finally time for some real football. This game has been circled on our calendars for a while – you don’t see too many home-and-homes with power five programs anymore, so we need to cherish and enjoy this matchup. There’s a reason this game is practically a pick’em per Vegas. Both teams have some serious question marks after week one and they appear to be evenly matched from a talent perspective. This should be a close, entertaining game with lots of points. It’ll probably come down to executing a handful of key plays.