Preview: No. 15 Tennessee vs. Ohio

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    No. 15 Tennessee (2-0) vs. Ohio (1-1)

    Saturday, noon ET

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

    TV: SEC Network

    Series Record: UT leads 1-0

     Setting the table

    Tennessee was part of history last week in Bristol. The Vols have one of their biggest regular-season games in recent history coming up next week. But standing in between those two huge games is Ohio – a team good enough to make life difficult for UT if the Vols don’t take care of business.

    And that’ll be the theme this week for UT. After starting out slow the past couple weeks, Tennessee will look to jump out to an early lead against the Bobcats, and put this one out of reach a bit earlier. The noon ET kick and the lack of overall hype for this game will mean UT needs a high level of focus and maturity on Saturday.

     Who has the edge

    When Tennessee throws…

    Nobody is confusing this offense with an Air Raid juggernaut, but the Vols have had some success going down the field this season at times. The Bobcats have been torched through the air in their first two games, coming into this contest ranked No. 118 in the nation in passing defense (323 yards/game) after facing Texas State and Kansas. Protection continues to be a concern for the Vols, but if Joshua Dobbs gets some time – or can create it – UT has a shot to make some plays in the passing game. Edge: Tennessee 

    When Tennessee runs…

    While Ohio has been lit up through the air, the Bobcats have been pretty stout in run defense – giving up just 66 yards per game thus far. Kansas and Texas State simply don’t have the weapons the ground that UT does, however. Jalen Hurd hasn’t broken any big ones yet, but he’s been solid through two weeks. Dobbs and Kamara can be dynamic on the ground when used correctly as well. The Bobcats won’t make it easy, but expect Tennessee to be able to move it on the ground with some level of consistency. Edge: Tennessee 

    When Ohio throws…

    Quarterback Greg Windham has been solid so far this season with 560 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception. He does a good job of taking care of the football and distributing it to his playmakers. The Vols have been pretty good at limiting the big play in the passing game, and are only giving up 161 yards per game through the air thus far. The overall talent and athleticism advantage goes to UT in this area. Edge: Tennessee 

    When Ohio runs…

    The Bobcats have been really good on the ground this year, averaging 283 yards per game. They have several threats in this area. Windham can pull it down and run, backs Dorian Brown and Maleek Irons both have big-play capabilities, and do-it-all athlete Papi White is a threat to make plays from multiple positions. Tennessee has been susceptible to the big play in the run game at times this year, so keeping leverage and wrapping up will again be key in this matchup. Edge: Even 

    On special teams…

    Ohio kicker Louie Zervos has been solid this year, and the Bobcats have several impressive options in the return game. But UT – even with a hobbled Evan Berry (hamstring) – still have more overall speed and talent on special teams. Coverage has been impressive this year, Trevor Daniel is still punting well and Cam Sutton remains one of the most dangerous returners in the nation. Kamara isn’t a bad backup option if Berry is limited. Edge: Tennessee

     Best-case scenario for UT 

    The Vols come out clicking, play their most complete game of the season and dominate an Ohio team that hasn’t seen an opponent the caliber of UT this year. Tennessee is up by at least three scores at halftime, pulls away late and gets out of the game healthy and fresh for Florida.

     Worst-case scenario for UT

    It was pretty much what happened against Appalachian State in the opener. The Vols make some mistakes, let Ohio stick around, and this game goes into the fourth quarter or overtime. Of course, a true worst-case scenario is that UT isn’t able to finish it off and takes a horrible loss heading into SEC play.

     How we think it’ll play out

    It’s tough to see UT playing a completely clean game in this scenario. It’s an early start, a trap-game type of scenario and an opponent that is well coached and talented enough to stick around. Surely UT has learned already this season that nothing is a given, and will come out focused from the start. We expect a few mistakes and sloppy moments, but also think UT should be able to get out of this one with a relatively comfortable win.