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Evaluating Tennessee’s potential two additional opponents for 2020

(Photo courtesy of Bruce Newman: 247Sports)

Second-most favorable matchup: Ole Miss Rebels

There won’t be a shortage of storylines if Tennessee and Ole Miss end up facing off this season. Lane Kiffin isn’t scheduled to appear in Neyland Stadium as an opposing head coach until next season, but it could be moved up a year if the SEC decides to use the 2021 and 2022 non-division opponents as the two additional games.

Kiffin inherits quite a bit of talent on the offensive side of the ball which is a match made in heaven for the offensive-minded head coach. But it’s the lack of talent and depth on the defensive side of the ball that makes this matchup the second-most favorable for the Vols out of the five potential opponents.

Ole Miss loses three productive seniors up front along the defensive line, but the Rebels are hopeful Tariqious Tisdale and Ryder Anderson can soften the blow of the departures. Demon Clowney, the cousin of Jadeveon Clowney, could factor in as well as a true freshman.

The linebackers and secondary aren’t near as thin as the defensive line, however. At linebacker, Lakia Henry and Jacquez Jones return after being the top-two tacklers on the defense a season ago. MoMo Sanogo, who was poised for a big year in 2019, missed last year due to a broken ankle. But he’s back to join Henry and Jones as one of the better starting linebacker cores in the conference.

At defensive back, three of the four starters return from a season ago in corners Jaylon Jones and Keidron Smith, while Jon Haynes returns at free safety. Depth could be an issue in the secondary if injuries pile up.

Offensively, the Rebels have a dynamic backfield in quarterback John Rhys Plumlee and running back Jerrion Ealy. Plumlee ran for over a thousand yards last season while averaging 6.6 yards per carry, but he only threw for 910 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. His inability as a passer could cost him the job, as redshirt sophomore Matt Corral has proven to be the better passer. Corral’s passing efficiency of 131.02 was nearly 30 points higher than Plumlee’s last year.

Ole Miss lacks weapons outside of Ealy and wide receiver Elijah Moore. The Rebels are hoping that Temple graduate transfer tight end Kenny Yeboah can prove to be a difference maker.

Three starters return up front along the offensive line in senior right tackle Royce Newman — Newman is expected to shift over from left guard to replace the graduated Alex Givens — senior center Eli Johnson and junior right guard Ben Brown. In addition, sophomore left tackle Nick Broeker, who was named to the 247Sports Freshman All-American Team, played in 11 of 12 games in a platoon role last year.

Overall, Tennessee is simply more talented and experienced by nature of where each head coach is at each point of their respective tenure.

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