Ohio vs Tennessee
When: Saturday, Sept. 17, noon ET
Where: Knoxville, Tenn. (Neyland Stadium)
Ohio at a glance
Head coach: Frank Solich (11th year, 80-61)
All-time record: 532–535–48
2015 results: 8-5 (5-3); Lost to Appalachian State 31-29 in the Camellia Bowl
Record against Tennessee: 0-1; Last meeting was a 34-23 victory for UT in 2009
2015 Overview: Former Nebraska head man Frank Solich has done a great job bringing stability to this Ohio program. But while the Bobcats have been good on a consistent basis – gaining bowl eligibility for the past seven seasons – they’ve struggled to take that next step.
That was often the case in 2015 as well.
Again, Ohio had a respectable 8-5 campaign overall. But in the big games – a huge divisional showdown against Bowling Green, a matchup against Big 10 foe Minnesota and a bowl contest against Appalachian State – the Bobcats came up short.
And much like UT last year, the Bobcats came close to some special moments for the program. They came up a combined four points short against Minnesota and in the bowl game. Those games easily could’ve changed the narrative of the season.
To their credit, they had a huge road win at MAC power Northern Illinois at the conclusion of the regular season. There was also a forgettable mid-season stretch that saw Ohio lose to Bowling Green, Buffalo and Western Michigan by an average of 32.3 ppg.
Ohio, which prides itself on playing complete football, ended up in the top five in the conference in both total offense and total defense. The offense showed a great deal of balance with approximately 2,500 yards through the air and 2,000 on the ground.
The Bobcats, who are still looking for their first MAC crown under Solich, return 11 total starters in 2016.
Three questions for this game:
1. Will there be a repeat of the 2009 lackluster performance?
Tennessee got an 11-point win over Ohio in 2009. It wasn’t a performance worth remembering for UT. The Vols held just a one-score edge late into the third quarter before finally getting some separation. UT didn’t look particularly motivated or excited that evening. The 2016 UT team has more talent. But with this afternoon game sandwiched between two massive ones – The Battle at Bristol against Virginia Tech and then Florida the following week – will Tennessee come out and take care of business or let Ohio stick around?
2. Can Ohio slow down UT’s high-powered offense?
This will be easier said than done for a defense that struggled against top offenses in 2015. Bowling Green and Western Michigan hung 62 and 49, respectively, on Ohio last year. The last time UT faced a MAC team, the Vols scored 59 on Bowling Green. Those numbers aren’t necessarily a direct representation of how this game will go, but history says that UT could be due for an afternoon of lighting up the scoreboard.
3. Can A.J. Oullette keep Ohio in the game?
Oullette, a running back, is one of Ohio’s best returning offensive players. He was Ohio’s top runner and 14th in the league last year with 785 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. Ohio will have to find some success running to keep the chains moving and the clock running to make this a game. With some uncertainly at quarterback, Oullette might be their best chance to do that.
How do we expect it to play out?
Tennessee is simply too good for Vol fans to be too concerned about this one. If Ohio wins this game – or even sticks around for more than a couple quarters – UT isn’t deserving of the hype that it’s getting right now.
All that being said, this is the ultimate trap game in terms of the circumstances.
UT will play the most attended football game in history the week before, and then arguably the biggest game of the regular season in years is waiting the next week in Florida. In between sits a well-coached Ohio team and a noon kickoff that could dampen enthusiasm.
A little bit of a hangover and sloppiness probably should be expected. That’s human nature. But Butch Jones has done a pretty job overall of getting UT up on a week-to-week basis. Regardless, Tennessee has the talent to win this game comfortably, even if it doesn’t have its ‘A’ game. Expect UT to roll by several scores in this one, maybe something to the tune of 49-17.