Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee will “buy or sell” the likelihood of several things happening each week before a Tennessee football game. Here are their takes on the Vols’ match-up with SEC West opponent Mississippi State.
Buy or Sell: Brian Maurer eclipses the 300-yard passing mark.
Nathanael: I’ll sell this one, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it happen. Mississippi State has given up 300 passing yards to a freshman QB once this season, and it was in their last game. Auburn’s Bo Nix put up a huge game in the Tigers’ 56-23 win over the Bulldogs, but State didn’t have their suspended defensive players available in that game. I think all of them will play on Saturday, and with Mississippi State coming off a bye week, too, I don’t think Maurer will get that total in just his second career start.
Ben: I’m selling. It’s just too much to ask from a freshman quarterback making his second career start. Maurer surpassing the 300-yard mark is possible, though. Mississippi State’s pass defense ranks last in the SEC, and Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix threw for over 300 yards against the Bulldog defense two weeks ago. Plus, Marquez Callaway and Jauan Jennings will present the biggest problems for State. If it doesn’t rain and the offensive line has a good day, Maurer could have a big game.
Buy or Sell: Tennessee scores two rushing touchdowns against Mississippi State.
Nathanael: Tennessee has yet to score a rushing touchdown in SEC play this season. But Mississippi State has been a sieve when it comes to allowing rushing touchdowns. They’ve given up 12 scores on the ground this year, which is tied with Kentucky for the most given up among SEC defenses. If the Vols are going to end their drought of rushing touchdowns against SEC opponents, this is the week to do it. I’ll buy that they get two.
Ben: Buy. Once Tennessee gets down towards the goal line, Jim Chaney will put the football in the hands of Tim Jordan, Ty Chandler, or Eric Gray in order to prevent Maurer from having to make decisive decisions in an area of the field that shrinks. I could see Jordan having two rushing touchdowns or having just one while Quavaris Crouch has a score in a short-yardage situation. Chaney has also used Chandler down around the goal line quite a bit.
Buy or Sell: The Vols win the turnover battle on Saturday.
Nathanael: The only time this season the Vols have won the turnover battle came against an FCS school. Tennessee has finished with a negative turnover margin in every other game this season. On the year, the Vols have a -6 turnover margin against FBS opponents. On the other hand, Mississippi State has the second-best turnover margin in the SEC at +5, and that’s all come against FBS teams. I would be pretty surprised if Tennessee wins the turnover battle in this game, so I’m selling.
Ben: Sell. Tennessee has a freshman quarterback making his second career start in potential bad weather along with a defense that doesn’t do a good job of forcing turnovers. Mississippi State, on the other hand, is second in the SEC in turnover margin (+5). The Bulldogs have turned it over nine times this season while forcing 14 turnovers — six of which are fumble recoveries.
Buy or Sell: Jauan Jennings goes over 100 yards receiving again.
Nathanael: I’m going to sell this one, actually. I think Jennings will be targeted and have several catches, but I think Mississippi State is really going to key in on him and make sure he doesn’t have a big gain (unless he just drags half the Bulldogs’ defense with him for some yards after catch). It wouldn’t surprise me to see Jennings get seven or eight catches, but I think he’ll stay around that 90 yard mark. Marquez Callaway could be the one who gets 100 yards due to his explosive ability deep, but I think you’ll see some more targets to Dominick Wood-Anderson and the running backs, too.
Ben: Buy, buy, buy, buy. There isn’t a player on Tennessee’s roster I trust more than Jauan Jennings. Every Vol fan should be willing to follow Jennings into the abyss, and Saturday will be no different. Against a Mississippi State passing defense that ranks dead last in the SEC, I’m expecting a big day from Jennings.
Buy or Sell: If Tennessee wins this game, they make it to a bowl game this season.
Nathanael: I’m actually going to buy this. I’ll show a little faith in this team if they can pull off this win. To me, this is the third-most difficult game remaining on UT’s schedule. Alabama is obviously the top one, and Missouri is No. 2 on my list, but State is behind those two. If the Vols can beat the Bulldogs, I think they’ll show they’re more than capable of beating South Carolina, UAB, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt, too. That’ll get them to six wins. I don’t feel super great about buying this one, but I’m going to skew positively for once on this team.
Ben: Sell. It’s going to be hard to overcome the 1-4 start to the season, and the Georgia State game will prevent Tennessee from reaching a bowl game. If the Vols can beat Mississippi State, I think they’ll go on to win every game the rest of the way except the Alabama, South Carolina, and Missouri games. That puts them at five wins. But even the contests with the Gamecocks and Tigers are games the Vols are capable of winning. I just don’t see it happening as of today.