I started out discussing my prediction last week by saying “this one is tough.” This week, it obviously isn’t. Tennessee rolls in this one and can essentially name its score and does what it wants against a Western Carolina team that isn’t great, even by FCS standards.
The Catamounts showed progress in 2014, going 7-5 after winning just 12 total games as a program previously since 2007. They played FBS opponent South Florida within a score to open up the season and took a nice step as a team overall last year. A lot of that team is back in 2015, most notably dual-threat quarterback Troy Mitchell, who has shown he can make some plays against any caliber opponent over the course of his career. But 2015 got off to somewhat of an inauspicious start with a 28-10 loss to The Citadel – a team they handled in 2014 – in WCU’s SoCon opener.
So while the likes of Jacksonville State and Georgia Southern have reminded in recent years that there’s no such thing as a sure-fire easy victory for an SEC team in these matchups, anything other than Tennessee controlling the game from start to finish would be a disappointment for Vol fans still trying to get over the crushing loss to Oklahoma last week.
If all goes as planned, UT will be more concerned about polishing up some of the shaky aspects of last week’s loss (picking up the blitz, vertical passing, kicking, etc.), getting some younger players experience and avoiding anymore injuries.
There will be a few plays that frustrate Tennessee fans, no doubt, because there’s rarely a perfect game against any level of opponent. But expect Tennessee to show up, jump out to an early lead and then work in the reserves, starting as early as the second quarter perhaps and then wrapping up a comfortable win by emptying the bench. A win awaits Saturday, but the true test comes the following week.
Pick: Tennessee 48-10
MVP: RB Alvin Kamara
The Vols will want to get him going a bit after being virtually a non-factor against Oklahoma. There likely won’t be reason to overwork him, but getting him double-digit touches and seeing if he can rip off another long play or two as he did against Bowling Green seem to be reasonable goals for this contest. Look for the Vols to use Jalen Hurd sparingly as he gets some rest and recovery and to turn Kamara loose for much of the first half before turning it over to John Kelly and others, who could also put up some decent numbers.
Not to sound negative, but this game is a layup. Tennessee can name their score, keep it simple, play young and still not please the fans. The bitter taste in the mouths of Vol players and fans from last weekend isn’t like to be rinsed out until next week at the earliest, regardless of what happens tonight.
The Vols are kind of in a no-win situation tonight, but there are still some things they have to prove – not only to themselves, but to their future opponents.
Tennessee needs to throw for 400 yards today. Yes, 400 yards. They have to let the receivers loose and allow them to make plays down the field. The quarterbacks (especially Dobbs) need to develop some trust and confidence with the guys on the outside, otherwise what we saw against Oklahoma will continue all season long. At this point, we know that the Vols can run the football. The coaches need to rest Hurd and Kamara and start getting John Kelly and Joe Young more reps, but the focus today HAS to be on the passing game.
Defensively, today should provide the Vol starters with little to worry about. Today is a great chance to get guys like Justin Martin, Micah Abernathy, Darrin Kirkland Jr., Austin Smith, Kahlil McKenzie…etc. extended reps to help prepare them for SEC play.
Pick: Tennessee 65-10
MVP: Tennessee WR Marquez North
This may be more of a hopeful pick than one I truly expect, but the Vols have to find a way to get #8 going and today is a great opportunity to turn him loose. He’s a matchup nightmare for WCU’s defense and even double-coverage shouldn’t stop Dobbs from giving him some opportunities to out-athlete Catamount defenders. Go to him early, go to him often, and hope that he and Dobbs can start to build a stronger rapport than they’ve shown through two games….they’ll need it after today.
What did we learn about Tennessee last week? They’re well ahead of where they stood one year ago, but still not quite ready for the spotlight…or opponent blitzes…or stretching the field…or moving the ball in the second half.
None of that should matter this week as UT gets a tuneup game before next week’s matchup with the Gators. The Vols should be able to name their score against a team which just lost by 18 points to The Citadel.
Look for the Vols to experiment with various personnel groupings at linebacker, offensive line, receiver and in the secondary. I fully expect some of Tennessee’s young talent (McKenzie, Martin, Jennings, Williams, Smith, Kirkland and Abernathy, to name a few) to get extended looks this week.
You should see the staff try to prove to the SEC (and their players) that they can, indeed, pass the football effectively. This, more than anything, should be a confidence building day for Dobbs and the UT passing game.
Don’t be surprised to see Quinten Dormady sling the ball around some too if the game gets out of hand early. He’s just “one play away” from some very real action. There’s no time like the present to get him some game reps.
Western Carolina should be expected to hit a few big plays in the passing game, but they shouldn’t be able to sustain long drives against Tennessee’s defense.
The Vols roll and build some confidence headed into a massive game next week.
Pick: Volunteers 51-10
MVP: Tennessee Quarterback Joshua Dobbs
I expect the Vols to sling it around the field Saturday evening in an effort to build some confidence headed into a showdown with the Gators next week. If UT views this as an opportunity to work on the passing game, Dobbs should put up some huge numbers even if his snaps are limited. He has shredded non-elite competition in his career and should continue to do so this week.