Tennessee is coming off back-to-back SEC wins and has the most momentum its had in years. The challenge increases Saturday night when Lane Kiffin brings No. 13 team in the country to Neyland Stadium.
Each week, the RTI team will provide game predictions for Tennessee’s weekly opponent.
We move on to Ole Miss.
Ric Butler: It’s hard to be around the Tennessee program and not buy into the “Heup” (to use a phrase Tennessee has been pushing this week) the last few weeks. The last two weeks have been offensive explosions for the Vols, putting up 107 points combined against SEC competition. Not to say Tennessee hasn’t played anyone good, but the level of competition is going to drastically increase when the Rebels arrive in Knoxville. This is going to be a back-and-forth showdown. I believe this game will really test the endurance of the Tennessee players more than any other game has this season. It won’t be a noon game, where you have 30 points on the board by the time some folks are still finishing lunch. No, instead, it will be a game that could push into the darkest hours of the night, with two of the fastest offenses in America. I want to see how resilient Tennessee will be this game, and I want to see if Tennessee can play a complete game when it matter’s most. There are going to be tons of storylines going into this game – Checker Neyland, Lane Kiffin’s return, the sellout crowd – but at the end of the day, the only way those things can factor into Tennessee’s advantage on the field is if the team is playing competitively. Tennessee won’t want to fall behind too far early on, but if they do, I don’t think they will need to hit the panic button. This is an offense that’s based on tempo and intelligence, and they will have plenty of chances to put points on the board. The biggest thing to me is this – When Ole Miss scores a field goal, Tennessee needs to respond with a touchdown. Any advantage will help the Vols in this race for points.
Prediction: Tennessee 45, Ole Miss 42
Ryan Schumpert: It’s been seven years since Tennessee has faced Ole Miss and 11 years since the Rebels have traveled to Neyland Stadium. How absurd is that for conference teams? That’s the one big positive of SEC expansion, Tennessee should play SEC west opponents far more frequently. Okay, back to the topic at hand. Lane Kiffin brings one of the nation’s best offenses in his return to Neyland Stadium for the first time as a head coach. That offense is going to present all sorts of challenges for a Tennessee defense that has overachieved to date, but struggled against Pitt— the best passing attack the Vols have seen to date. Matt Corral has taken much better care of the ball than he did last season and is a Heisman candidate because of it. Ole Miss’ ability to take care of the ball and its propensity to go for it on fourth down will make Tennessee’s defense play a complete performance Saturday. However, Tennessee’s offense is going to present all sorts of challenges for an Ole Miss defense that has given up 51 and 42 points in its two SEC games. This game will be full of points and that’s why the over/under is lingering in the low 80s. I’ve waffled on my pick all week and Tiyon Evans status is the biggest question mark remaining in the game. I have a hard time seeing Ole Miss’ 3-2-6 defense slowing down a rushing attack of Hendon Hooker, Tiyon Evans, and Jabari Small. Still, I see this one as a near-complete toss-up. Ole Miss has more experience playing in these track meets where 40 points often aren’t enough to earn the win. Tennessee doesn’t have that experience yet. I’m going with the Rebels in a tight one.
Prediction: Ole Miss 41, Tennessee 38