Here's one thing to watch for: run forward, not backward.
Yesterday Brent Hubbs pointed out something I hadn't realized ($): the Vols haven't really scheduled this way before. Tennessee almost always plays their big non-conference opponent before the Gators, true. But it's either been just seven days before (Cincinnati last year, Oregon in 2010, etc.), or if it's the season opener the Vols have at least played someone with a pulse in week two (Air Force, Southern Miss, UAB, etc). We've never really had one like this, where the Vols win the huge week one game, then get an FCS flavored cupcake in week two.
As such, we'll spend much of Saturday sitting back and watching. None of us expect the Vols to have any problem with a team that just lost 33-6 to South Carolina State. All of us are interested in what will be a great SEC football Saturday, with future Vol opponents in all three major timeslots (Auburn at Mississippi State at noon, Florida at Texas A&M at 3:30, Georgia at Missouri at 7:45).
But in the three or four hours we'll spend inside Neyland Stadium, what do you want to see? Aside from new flatscreen TVs and cheaper bottles of water, here's what I'm most interested in this weekend in Knoxville:
Winning is objective one, this is two. Plain and simple.
Yards Per Carry for Vol Running Backs
Take away Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Bray last Friday, and UT running backs carried it 33 times for 126 yards, 3.8 per carry. That number isn't setting the world on fire ordinarily, but remember last year?
Tennessee's 2011 rushing numbers:
- Montana: 46 carries, 128 yards (2.78)
- Cincinnati: 35 carries, 126 yards (3.60)
- Florida: 21 carries, -9 yards (-0.43)
- Buffalo: 44 carries, 199 yards (4.52)
- Georgia: 23 carries, -21 yards (-0.91)
- LSU: 29 carries, 111 yards (3.83)
- Alabama: 32 carries, 92 yards (2.88)
- South Carolina: 21 carries, 35 yards (1.67)
- MTSU: 45 carries, 120 yards (2.67)
- Arkansas: 42 carries, 138 yards (3.29)
- Vanderbilt: 30 carries, 101 yards (3.37)
- Kentucky: 24 carries, 61 yards (2.54)
This means that the decent number Tennessee put up in the Georgia Dome was better than ten of twelve performances last year. Only the Buffalo game and the LSU game (see: Simms, Matt) featured a stronger performance from Vol running backs. The negative numbers were bad, but perhaps even worse was the way Tennessee couldn't run at all against the likes of MTSU, Kentucky, and even FCS foe Montana.
So even decent numbers against FCS foe Georgia State would be a general improvement. I'm not going to get all excited if we run for six per carry against the Panthers. But I am going to get all kinds of concerned if we can't run the ball on this team. A good effort from the RBs - especially on first down - gives us hope, and gives the Gators more to think about.
The rest of the depth chart at WR
I'm good with Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. And while a second helping of Zach Rogers would be welcome, I'm not going to give up on him if he doesn't do much this week. What I really want to see is who else can emerge. Bray fired it to ten different receivers last week - who among the second team can be consistent?
and Jacob Carter
both caught a pass last week, while Cody Blanc
saw the field. It doesn't appear that Pig Howard will be making his Vol debut this week, but we could see Jason Croom
. Remember, we signed the best class of wide receivers in the nation. We'd all love to see some of those guys get in the mix just to open up additional possibilities.
Sack the Quarterback
We took care of the INT problem last week. Now, let's get after a quarterback that got dumped five times against South Carolina State.
Again, like the run game I'm not going to get overly excited if the defense gets another five sacks. But I will be more concerned if we don't get any. There should be a lot of orange bodies in the game on Saturday, plenty of newcomers looking to make their mark. In a more aggressive defense, I expect to put the QB on the ground a number of times tomorrow.
If point number one holds up, we don't have to worry about this in meaningful situations. But I think, especially after last week, we're still operating under the assumption that Tyler Bray has played his last season opener in an orange uniform. So hopefully we get a look at Worley early and often in this one, and hopefully he shows off some of his improvement, because he could be the guy this time next year.
Again: win the game, stay healthy, continue to build confidence. Get the job done tomorrow, and we can all move on to the business we really want to attend to.