Will Shelton - Jalen Reeves-Maybin
It's no secret: if Tennessee is going to have a chance to pull the upset Saturday night, it will take a legendary performance from its defense, currently 15th in the nation in yards per play allowed. Cameron Sutton probably remains Tennessee's most talented defensive player, but the unit's greatest chance to be dynamic comes in tackles for loss, where the Vols are sixth nationally with eight per game. JRM is the leader in that effort; if Tennessee wants to continue to be strong on third down it will need to play behind the line of scrimmage on first and second down. There's a small window here: Ole Miss has given up 40 TFLs this year; 6.67 per game is 98th nationally. If the Vols can do what they've done all year on defense, they can give themselves a chance, and if there's one player who can most impact that effort I think it will continue to be Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Joel Hollingsworth - Mike Bajakian
Defense can help, but the Vols are going to have to get something out of their offense against a really, really good defense. We all know the problem. The Land Sharks are circling Justin Worley even now. But what is the solution? Can Bajakian figure out a way to get the running game going without sufficient blocking? To get the passing game going without enough time to throw? Neither the run blocking nor the pass protection is going to improve drastically this week, so it's up to coach Jake to try to find some way, any way, to scheme around it. That is the biggest challenge of the season, and it's especially tricky this week.
Chris Pendley - Michael Williams
The "wait, who's that guy?" playing across from Cam Sutton is going to have his hands full with the deepest WR corps Tennessee's faced all season. (I can't pick "everyone in the secondary not named Cam Sutton", but that's the idea here.) Ole Miss has some scary, scary WRs--you know Laquon Treadwell, but you're missing two other guys who average 14+ yards per catch and over 3.5 catches a game.
That means everyone's going to be busy in the secondary, and assuming that Dr. Bo isn't gonna stick needles in places they shouldn't go and throw at Cam Sutton about 15 times, it'll be up to Williams to be the next line of defense against these guys. Williams has done well so far this season--5.6 YPA doesn't occur in a vacuum--but in a game where the margin for error is effectively nil for Tennessee to walk out of here with a win, it'll be up to guys like Williams to have the game of their life.
Hunter Turner - Pig Howard
This is a classic James Franklin-at-Vandy game, in that I have no idea how the offense is going to score. The Ole Miss defense is talented and experienced, and unfortunately for Tennessee, the Rebels' greatest strength (defensive line) will tee off against the Vols' most glaring weakness (offensive line). While Joel is absolutely right that Mike Bajakian will need to be at his schematic and game management best to give Tennessee a chance to win this game, at some point, the players on the field still have to step up and make plays in crucial situations. Marquez North, Von Pearson (if healthy), and the other Vols wide receivers are more or less known quantities in the passing game, but Howard is still maddeningly inconsistency and unfocused, making him a wild card for this game.
Against Florida, Howard's sloppy route running (he stayed too vertical on his route instead of breaking hard on the angle) on Worley's final interception gave the cornerback a chance to make a game-ending play on the ball. While there were a dozen other equally important plays in that game, a simple lack of effort and focus snuffed out the last hope for a big win against a hated rival. This weekend, North will almost certainly draw the Rebels' best cover corner, with Howard matching up against some combination of linebackers, safeties, and nickelbacks in underneath coverage. For the Vols to win, Howard needs to win this matchup, if not every time, then more often than not. Justin Worley is going to get shelled in this game, and he needs reliable options while he's running for his life. Now is the time for Pig Howard to eliminate the drops and inconsistency that have plagued him, and finally live up to his lofty expectations.
Incipient_Senescence - Kyler Kerbyson
Against Florida and Chattanooga, defensive linemen were blowing past Kerbyson like he wasn't even there. Kerbyson is not a very good left tackle--he's a natural guard being forced to tackle because of injuries and lack of talent--and he's not going to become a good left tackle this week, but he needs to be a decent left tackle. He can't let a strong Ole Miss defensive front take free runs at Justin Worley's blind side. Because when people take free runs at Justin Worley's blind side, bad things happen. There are plenty of weak spots on the line, and this one is not ridiculously more important than the others, but Kerbyson is the one veteran starting at tackle, and if he can hold down the fort on the left, the Vols can do more to help true freshman Coleman Thomas on the front.
Kib Bourbon - Cam Sutton
This Ole Miss defense is something fierce. I have very little confidence that we're going to be able to throw the ball with any success, and I have even less confidence that we'll be able to run the ball with success. With that being said, one might conclude that I'm not terrible bullish on our chances this Saturday in Oxford, and one would be right. But if we are going to at least have a chance, it's going to be by finding a way to transform Good Dr. Bo into Bad Dr. Bo. It's seemingly been all Good Dr. Bo this season, but certainly Bad Dr. Bo can be baited into coming out to play for a little while.
And I think Cam is just the man for the job. By sticking to Bo's favorite target like white on rice, Cam will make it continually difficult for Mr. Wallace to get the ball to his preferred target, but Bo won't take no for an answer, he'll try to do too much, and -- VOILA! -- say hello to Bad Dr. Bo. That's what we need to have happen to give ourselves a fighting chance in this game.