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Prediction Panel: No. 15 Tennessee vs. Ohio

Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI
Photo Credit: Mason Burgin/RTI

Daniel’s Pick:

Let’s be honest, you’re looking forward to this game on Saturday so you can say “it’s Florida week” as soon as it’s over. And while it’s fine for the fans to have that mentality, the team needs to have a better focus this week, especially early.

There are a lot of factors working against that happening. This is a noon kick in a game that won’t get UT, or its fans, as fired up as the Battle at Bristol or the massive matchup against Florida next week. I’m not sure if Ohio has the overall talent to take advantage of it, but this is a “trap game” if I’ve ever seen one. So the Vols need to come out firing early – something they haven’t done in the first two weeks.

Yes, UT has the talent to overcome a slow start, but falling behind early will only give the Bobcats confidence. As the Vols learned in Week 1, a few early plays can give an underdog a ton of confidence and turn it into a long day for the favorite. The Bobcats are well-coached, accustomed to winning and have enough experience on offense that they could make life difficult for the Vols if they don’t play well.

But I think the two slow starts and the added emphasis on starting fast should serve UT well. And the lessons from Appalachian State should still be fresh. This Tennessee team is talented, but its also seen first-hand what happens when it doesn’t play its best game or lets a team hang around.

I’m expecting something like a 21-10 game at halftime that turns into a comfortable finish for UT. Ohio does enough well on offense that I think the Bobcats will find the end zone at least twice, but their defense is a massive concern. UT should be able to regularly move the ball on them.

It won’t be perfect, but it’ll give the Vols some confidence heading into the massive matchup with the Gators.

Pick: Tennessee 41-17 

MVP: WR Josh Malone 

It might be foolish to pick anybody who won’t be regularly running the football, but there are a couple ingredients in place that could lead to Malone having a big day. First, Ohio’s pass defense has been atrocious this year. The Bobcats are giving up 323 passing yards per game through two contests against Texas State and Kansas. Both teams had a receiver go for 90+ yards against the Bobcats. And with UT’s group of receivers pretty banged up going into this one, Joshua Dobbs should look for Malone early and often.

Malone so far this year has shown a knack for big plays – becoming the only semi-consistent target at receiver for Dobbs thus far in the season. If that all plays out, Malone could get something harder to find at UT these days than a parking spot or a ticket to the Florida game – a 100-yard day by a wide receiver.

Nathanael’s Pick

Look, most of you don’t care about Ohio. I realize that. You’re just ready for Florida week, and that’s okay. But I’m going to give you a little breakdown of the Bobcats because that’s my job. And if you’re here, reading this, then I appreciate that.

Ohio is a dangerous team. Don’t roll your eyes at me. They are. On offense, at least. Quarterback Greg Windham is a dual threat QB that has 560 passing yards and 183 rushing yards in two games this season. He’s accounted for six total touchdowns and has thrown only one interception, and he spreads the ball around too. Papi White has 9 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown while Jordan Reid has 9 receptions for 152 yards and two scores.

The Bobcats have a strong rushing attack too, averaging 5.2 yards per carry as a team and 283 yards a game through their first two games. Three players have over 100 rushing yards on the season already.

Ohio has scored 91 total points in their first two games. But those games came against Texas State, an FCS school that Ohio ended up losing to, and Kansas, one of the worst Power Five schools in the country. They’ve also allowed 77 points on defense.

Sure, Ohio may have some good pieces and can probably put up a fight. But the Vols learned lessons from their game against Appalachian State, and I would absolutely shocked if they come out flat against the Bobcats and let them do what the Mountaineers did.

This game lines up as a great candidate for a trap game. It’s the game after the Battle at Bristol and the game before Florida. But I just don’t think the Vols lose focus this time. Tennessee should have their starters out by the fourth quarter.

Pick: Tennessee 51-19

MVP: Alvin Kamara

That’s right. I’m picking Kamara as the MVP. All this talk about him not getting enough touches finally sinks in to the coaches, and with this game likely decided early, I think Hurd gets some rest and Kamara picks up more carries and receptions.

When he gets the ball in space, Kamara is downright deadly. And this is the type of game where if you give your playmakers the ball in space, they should be able to rip off some huge gains. And that’s what Kamara does best. I think he’ll end up with at least 100 total yards in this one. At least I hope so.

Stephen’s Pick

Who here has wondered whether or not Tennessee fans will rush the field if they beat Florida? Or if Butch Jones should get fired if the Vols lose to the Gators? Or if you’ve already bought the gator tail for your tailgate next week?

Go on, raise your hands up high so we can all see.

If you didn’t raise your hand you are in the minority of Volunteer fans, because the entire season hinges on the Vols beating the Gators next week. In other words, Tennessee fans might be a little distracted from focusing on this game against the Ohio Bobcats.

But the question is whether or not the football team will be distracted. Will they overlook the Bobcats with thoughts of ending the 11-game losing streak in the back of their minds? Will the overlook Ohio the same way the seemingly overlooked Appalachian State? Maybe. But I doubt it.

Ohio’s offense is actually something of a mixture of Tennessee and App State. They run no-huddle, up tempo as Tennessee does. And they play a very misdirection, run/pass option style offense similar to the Mountaineers. They will pass the ball a lot, which could be a challenge for the Bobcats against this Tennessee secondary. I expect that to be a very intriguing match up.

Ohio’s offensive line has yet to give up a sack this season and one thing the Bobcats do very well is get rid of the ball quickly. Tennessee’s defensive line is much better than Ohio’s offensive line, but it could still be tricky and even challenging for the pass-rush to be effective – unless of course the coverage causes Ohio QB Greg Windham to hold on to the ball a little longer.

Offensively, Tennessee should be able to put up a lot of points as dreadful Kansas put up 21 points and Texas State notched a whopping 56 on the Bobcats. Specifically, Ohio is allowing over 300 passing yards per game. Which could provide a great opportunity for Josh Dobbs and company to work on the throw game and pass protection.

While Ohio isn’t as bad as some other teams who have upset bigger programs this season, consider the lesson learned from the near upset to App State. Though I don’t expect a complete beat down, the Vols should see success throwing the ball and forcing turnovers on defense.

Pick: Tennessee 38-10

MVP: Josh Malone

Call it a hunch. I see Tennessee’s offense exposing the Bobcat secondary and Josh Malone notching a 100-yard game with at least one, if not two touchdowns. He’s already shown he can win the deep ball, and this secondary will be worse than either of his previous opponents this season. Throw that in with the fact that they will likely rotate Jalen Hurd a little more and won’t run Dobbs as much to keep them healthy for the Florida game, and this could be Josh Malone’s shiny moment.

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