Every Friday [or thereabouts], we're going to take a look at some things the Tennessee Volunteers need to have happen in order to win their upcoming game. We're also going to turn our attention around the country so I can give you an idea of what to expect in the college football world over the weekend.
Call it a primer if you will, but this is your guide to the upcoming games with an eye toward your participation in the thread below. Not only do I want you to add to this stuff, I also want you to rip me completely [and kindly] when you realize in the coming weeks that I have no idea what I'm talking about.
See, these are fun for me because I like to look back at the things I've said at the end of the year and make fun of myself [and you guys, of course...] and my overall ignorance about the thing I'm most passionate about in the world. Because, if we take ourselves too seriously -- as I've learned the hard way in the past -- we're certainly not going to have as much fun with this stuff as it's supposed to be.
So, without further adieu, here's the inaugural edition of RTT's locks and keys -- with the five Tennessee keys being first, as they'll always be. But Brad, why is it called 'locks and keys' if the keys are going to be first? Why not 'keys and locks?' Well, that just doesn't rhyme, now does it? You're missing the point already. And now I'm talking to myself, so I digress ...
Onto the roundup; first UT's five keys ... oh, and speaking of rhyming, that's the only reason why I threw "RTT" in the title. These are my own personal ramblings, and I'm sure the Joel/Will/Chris/Brigade quartet will want to separate their names from this worthless prognosticating drivel ASAP:
- Score first. We've all seen it countless times. Team A is a big underdog against Team B, but Team B comes out sluggish, and Team A with a head of steam. Team A drives it down the field early or takes advantage of an early miscue and puts points on the board. All of a sudden, that adrenaline escalates into a fever pitch, and Team A actually believes it WILL win after that, not just that it CAN. We saw it last night in the Kentucky-Western Kentucky game, and UK never looked right. The Vols have much more talent than Montana, but the Grizz is used to being the top dog most seasons. This is a team that is considered among the cream of the FCS. UT needs to put the pedal to the metal early and not let up.
Get Bray going. I've said this week that I expect Jim Chaney will open up the offense a little more against a lesser opponent than we're used to seeing this week because the coaches want to get a feel for how Tyler Bray handles the increased playbook load early. That's fine and probably preferable. Just don't do it early in the game. I'd love to see UT come out and try to run play-action and go deep to Justin Hunter or Da'Rick Rogers in the first couple of plays of the game [as a matter of fact, I expect it] but give Bray some high-percentage passes early to get his confidence up. Let him think that intermediate passing game is going to be there for him to lean on the entire game. This is a strong Montana unit that led the Big Sky in total defense last year in a down year. They have eight starters back, and Bray needs to gain confidence early. If so, it'll go a long way for the early season.
Emphasize run defense. Sophomore Jordan Johnson appears to be getting the nod at starting quarterback for Montana, but he has only completed 15 passes in his career, he's undersized, and he's been battling a bum ankle. So, the Grizzlies probably aren't going to wow anybody passing the football. The other option -- Gerald Kemp -- was a running back last year. So, if Kemp is in the game, you know you have to contend with the run, and if Johnson is in, you know that the pass isn't going to burn you. Montana's zone-read scheme scares me a little because [even though it's a different offense altogether] I remember the UAB game last year where their running quarterback and phantom handoffs really gave UT fits when the Vols took poor angles. With two freshmen linebackers, staying in slots is going to be a big key, and UT should spend the entire game focused on the run and just trust its defensive back talent to make up for the rest. The Vols should also play aggressively when it comes to forcing turnovers -- where the Grizz was minus-7 last year. Stopping the run means stopping the Grizz.
- Win at the offensive point of attack. I don't care what Derek Dooley said last year about his youngsters up front, they weren't incredible and were only moderately serviceable at times. The Vols are one of only five FBS schools not to start a senior on the offensive line, according to Chris Low's latest blog. While that bodes well for the future, Vols fans care about RIGHT NOW. This is a game that looks confidence-building on paper, but Montana, as we've mentioned, is actually pretty sound defensively. With the potent defenses of the SEC schedule looming, the group of four sophomores and one junior need to develop that team chemistry and jelling that never really took place last season as Dooley mixed-and-matched lineups to find the best five.
- Develop playmakers. I don't care if it comes from the true freshmen linebackers, the star sophomore wide receivers, the brash quarterback, an unknown on special teams, the stable of young runners or the wily veteran TB, Tennessee MUST find dependable players and find them quickly. Let's face it, most of us would be stunned if the Vols actually lose Saturday. The key here is win now and win in such a way where you don't plant doubt for the future. This needs to be one of those games where everybody starts seeing who can be counted on for production. So, Tennessee can actually win on the scoreboard and lose in other ways against Montana. That doesn't need to happen. Win and win thoroughly.
Now, let's take a look at the locks. These are things I think you can take to the bank this weekend. [Note: Don't actually take them to the bank and then blame me because you listened to me. Surely none of you are that dumb.]
- Don't worry about looking at my picks for this weekend, because those are made with my heart and not my head. The best-case scenario happens for the country when UGA takes out Boise State and LSU beats Oregon this weekend. Why is this the best-case? UGA is going to expose the Broncos for the big-conference fraud they are and still wind up just mediocre in the SEC. LSU is going to flash its mad talent against the Ducks, knocking them from the BCS conversation early and clearing the way for the Vols to upset the No. 1 (or No. 2) team in the country in Knoxville in October [speaking of picking with your heart...]
- No matter what he says publicly, we'll all know by the middle of Saturday afternoon how Nick Saban REALLY felt about his playing days at Kent State.
- Connor Shaw is not an upgrade over the shaky Stephen Garcia just yet, and Garcia will play a lot against ECU and start by week 3 and possibly next week.
- Les Miles will find out some time Sunday that it's much tougher to digest synthetic turf than it is actual grass.
- Florida will have a difficult time fitting its speed-first personnel and undersized offensive linemen into a pro-style offense, and we'll see the first signs of that against Florida Atlantic, regardless of the final score [which won't be close].
- A clash of cultures will be catastrophic when a slew of Mormons invade The Grove this weekend and encounter many given to strong drink. Don't be surprised if the Mississippi River begins flowing backward from the gravity of this meeting. Oh, and BYU wins going away.
- Miami will prove that as much as Al Golden tries to keep all the off-the-field stuff off the field, these are still 18-22 year old kids, and they'll be affected.
- The Houston-UCLA game won't be competitive, and Case Keenum will start his Heisman campaign early.
- Though Southern Cal will beat Minnesota, the Gophers and new coach Jerry Kill will keep it close -- like single-digits close. Even so, USC will get one win closer to bowl eligi-- BAWAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
- South Florida is going to upset Notre Dame in Skip Holtz's return to South Bend, causing Lou to drown himself in saliva -- while severely injuring Mark May -- in the ESPN studios.
- I will get yelled at AT LEAST five times for not having any idea where my 1-year-old son is because I'll be "supposed to be" watching him, and I'll be glued to the television instead.