So when we last left our intrepid team, they were busy ignoring the plan I had designed for them to be offensively competent. Bad show, guys.
As punishment, I sentence you to play Ole Miss in Oxford, which coincidentally was exactly what was on the schedule. I'm brilliant.
Specifically, I sentence you to participate in the
BATTLE OF THE OVERMATCHED OFFENSIVE LINES
Tennessee will not have the better offensive line in this game. (ed note: are you just starting the rest of your previews with this sentence? ed response: yes) It won't be particularly close, either. However: Ole Miss's offensive line hasn't been great at keeping opponents out of its backfield, either. Tennessee has the huge "edge" on sacks allowed (23 to 11), but the tackles-for-loss numbers are way closer than you'd expect (48 to 41).
Where it gets extra interesting is on the defensive line: Tennessee has the edge in both sacks (12 to 11, although Ole Miss is averaging over 10 yards a sack, which doesn't seem sustainable) and tackles for loss (48 to 40).
With that being said, Ole Miss's defensive line is at worst top 10 in the country and likely top 1, so grains of salt and all that. Tennessee's line is already closer than you think, though.
So here's the challenge: can Tennessee's defensive line be good enough to not only beat Ole Miss's defensive line, but overcome its own offensive line? Keep in mind that while neither run game is impressive, the Ole Miss front seven does a better job of keeping the run game down (3.3 YPC allowed to Tennessee's 3.9 YPC). Of course, Ole Miss's keeping the run game down is Tennessee's run game improvement (hide your eyes: 3.0 YPC), so adjust accordingly and remember we're making up ground here.
TENNESSEE SUCCEEDS IF: Vol TFL > (Ole Miss TFL + 3).
TENNESSEE FAILS IF: Vol TFL <= Ole Miss TFL.
THE PREDICTION: Vol TFL = Ole Miss TFL -3. Who wants some Robert Nkdemche highlight reels?
Next up, you must ponder the question of
WHEN DID BO WALLACE GET GOOD
No, seriously: 9.4 YPA, 68.5%, and 15/6 with scrambling ability is the absolute best-case Dr. Bo. However; this is the best pass defense Dr. Bo's faced to date, but he also wrecked the second-best pass defense (Alabama's), so ...you know, buyer beware.
In addition, this is also one of the few teams who can match, let alone beat, Tennessee's wide receiver depth. They have five guys who average more than 14 yards per reception (including tight end Even Engram and running back Jaylen Watson), and we're not even counting Laquon Treadwell, who's gonna be facing a lot of Cam Sutton.
Tennessee's pass defense is good. This will be the biggest test they've faced yet. Their biggest test so far was Oklahoma, who basically shredded them. I expect someone's going to get locked down (spoiler warning; it's the guy Sutton's covering), but keeping this entire passing game down is asking far too much, especially when you realize
WAIT, WE HAVE TO COMPARE WORLEY TO DR. BO
In all the games I've been doing this comparison, the "Justin Worley needs to beat [opposing QB], but how?" question hasn't quite been this helpless. The only options I have are "the Dr. Bo who performs appendectomies with a tree branch shows up", "the entire Ole Miss WR corps gets food poisoning", or "this game gets vacated later". Worley's got to play out of his mind to even get in the same solar system that Dr. Bo's operating in right now.
TENNESSEE SUCCEEDS IF: Worley breaks 7.5 YPA, Dr. Bo is kept under 7.0 YPA.
TENNESSEE FAILS IF: More or less anything but the "succeeds" line happens, honestly.
THE PREDICTION: We'll look on this comparison on Sunday and sigh.
Lastly, you must play the game of
WHICH RANDOM TENNESSEE PLAYER NEEDS TO STEP UP AND PLAY OUT OF THEIR MIND
We're talking some career-defining days here. Brian Randolph gets two picks. Derek Barnett outplays Robert Nkdemche. Jalen Hurd gets 150 yards. Michael Williams breaks up 5 passes and gets a pick. Tennessee's offensive line only allows 2 TFL and no sacks. (Just seeing if you were still paying attention.) All of these don't need to happen, but one or two of these do. If not these, something like them.
TENNESSEE SUCCEEDS IF: Two guys step up and have the game(s) of their lives.
TENNESSEE FAILS IF: anything else?
THE FINAL PREDICTION: 34-10 Ole Miss. Ole Miss safely covers, goes into cruise control, and if you've been following me utterly nosedive in the Locks so far this year, you'll understand.