I picked Tennessee 34-20 in the preseason, but last week’s slow start has made me re-think that a bit. Tennessee’s O-line simply must play better or the Vols are going to struggle. You can say anything you want about the play calling, Joshua Dobbs or anything else on offense, but it has to start up front. Tennessee can’t have a 2014-like effort on the offensive line or the Vols will simply struggle to move the ball against any quality opponent.
That’s the biggest question for me, and I do expect the Vols to bounce back in that area. That should allow Mike DeBord to open it up offensively, let Joshua Dobbs get more involved and find some rhythm on that side of the ball. I expect Bud Foster to get Virginia Tech’s defense back soon, but there were too many issues last year for the Hokies, and I think UT will be able to expose them in a few spots.
Defensively, the key will be rattling quarterback Jerod Evans, who has all the tools to be a great player, but hasn’t proven it at this level yet. Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges are the players that UT must key on in the passing game, but I think if the Vols can do that, they’ll be able to limit the Hokies.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see UT bounce back and get a convincing win. But I also saw enough that was concerning in Week 1 that I’m not ready to predict it. At the end of the day, take away the setting, take away Week 1 and just look at these teams – I think UT is just a better. The Vols remain the best bet.
Pick: Tennessee 27-20
MVP: RB Jalen Hurd
He wasn’t dynamic in Week 1, but when UT was in a pinch, the Vols handed the ball to their junior running back. That seems to be in Mike DeBord’s comfort zone, and against a run defense that was just decent last year, I think Hurd can get another 100-yard game with perhaps a couple touchdowns.
I, like almost everyone else who watched the Vols last week, didn’t expect the kind of lethargic, out-of-sync performance from Tennessee’s offense in Week 1. And after that showing, I’m a little more hesitant to predict a high-scoring game from the Vols in this one.
In the preseason, I picked the Vols to win this on 38-20. I thought Virginia Tech would be able to score, but I figured Tennessee would be able to dump on some points and keep it out of reach for most of the game. Now, however, I don’t feel as comfortable saying that.
Tennessee should still win this one. They have the talent edge at almost every position. Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara, and Josh Dobbs should be able to gain chunks of yards on the ground in this one. The question is, however, will the coaching staff let them?
On defense, the Vols will have to stop Virginia Tech’s quarterback, Jerod Evans. He has the kind of skill set that scares any defensive coordinator. If the Vols can slow him down and limit any big pass plays, they should be able to win this one.
This game will come down to coaching, and I, much like Vol fans, aren’t the most keen on this staff’s play-calling. I hope they open it up and let the skill players on offense just do their thing, but that’s not always been the case with this offense. The Vols will win, but it will be closer than I originally thought.
Pick: Tennessee 31-21
MVP: RB Jalen Hurd
Dobbs will be the trendy pick for the MVP of the game, but I still just don’t trust this staff to let him be him and run around the yard. I think Hurd will have a better overall game than he did last week and run for another 100-plus yards. This time, however, I think he scores a couple touchdowns and doesn’t have to rely on recovering a fumble in the end zone to score.
Lets be honest. We all expected a little more from Tennessee’s offense last week against Appalachain State. A 20-13 overtime victory was probably the last thing anyone thought would happen. And it was definitely an eye-opener for me as the lone RTI preseason 12-0 predictor.
That being said, I do fully expect a better game from the Volunteers against the Hokies on Saturday. Several of the reasons why Tennessee nearly lost last week were fixable mistakes or just bad breaks. The muffed punt, ball security, the targeting ejection, and dropping a would-be touchdown just to name a few. If these things hadn’t happened, I believe the game would have had a very different outcome.
The biggest question mark for me in this game will be Tennessee’s offensive line bouncing back after a dismal performance last week. If Dobbs can’t get protection and if Jalen Hurd has no running lanes, it could be a long game for the Vols. And you can guarantee Bud Foster saw the Tennessee O-line performance on film and will be attacking them all game.
The next big storyline in this game is going to be whether or not Jerod Evans is the real deal. Bob Shoop’s defense was solid against App State last week only allowing 292 total yards and not a single point in the second half. In other words, the Vols defense looks pretty good against a team that rushed for even more yards than UT did last season. So it will be interesting to see if Evans can come out and get something going for the Hokies offensively.
All in all, Virginia Tech looks to be heading in the right direction. But they aren’t there yet. Even if Evans is the real deal, he is just one player. And although the Hokies do have other playmakers in Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges, I just don’t think they will be enough to outmatch the Vols as a whole. I expect a closer game than my original 38-17 prediction, but Tennessee will still win this one.
Pick: Tennessee 30-21
MVP: QB Joshua Dobbs
Last week was a forgettable performance by just about everyone on Tennessee’s offense – including Dobbs. But if the offensive line can improve even a little and Dobbs can be his normal, play-making self, I think we might see a 175/70 passing and rushing yard game with a couple of TDs thrown in there.