Will Shelton - Justin Worley?
The silence speaks volumes on Worley's status for Saturday. If he can't go, things will probably take an even darker turn for Tennessee's offense, which could elect to burn Josh Dobbs' redshirt. If it's not Worley, and it's not going to be Worley for more than one week, the Most Important Vol longterm becomes one of Dobbs, Nathan Peterman, Quinten Dormady, or Jauan Jennings. If he can go, we'll need less of Hero Worley and more of Game Manager Worley.
Joel Hollingsworth - The Defensive Player Who's Given An Opportunity for a Pick Six
We're going to need that extra oomph tomorrow, that extra score that comes from someplace unexpected. (Add your own joke here about any TD being unexpected.) If an errant pass falls into the opportunity zone of any defensive player tomorrow night, he's going to need to catch the thing and take it into the checkerboards for a score. Failing to finish it likely means the difference between 7 and 3 if it happens in the red zone or 3 and 0 if it happens outside of it. Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way, SCORE.
Incipient_Senescence - Von Pearson
Let's start with what we know: the offensive line is not going to make holes for Jalen Hurd or Marlin Lane. The offensive line is not going to give Worley time to throw slow-developing routes (most of which Worley can't hit anyway). Tennessee's offense will be quick-hitting passes by necessity, and who's the best player on the team at making things happen on quick-hitting passes? For the first two weeks, it was Von Pearson. Then he got injured, but he's back now, and it needs to be Von Pearson again. Bonus points if he can be dangerous enough to convince Alabama to not shade coverage Marquez North's way, because North has really struggled with being covered like a star receiver this year.
Chris Pendley - Lane Kiffin
Come on, y'all. I'm already on record here. But seriously, Tennessee doesn't have much of a chance in this game unless there's some stupid on the other sideline, and when I need a source of inexplicable stupid, I know where to look.
(Fine, you're gonna make me choose an actual guy in orange, aren't you?)
Chris Pendley - Cam Sutton
IN BEFORE SOMEONE ELSE TAKES HIM and he basically locked down Laquon Treadwell flat last week, as he's done with literally everyone else. Kiffin and Blake Sims have more or less forgotten about every single other WR on the team, so sure, throw at Cam. Do it a lot. See what happens.
Kid Bourbon - YOU
That's right, you. The guy who has the option of going to the game or not going to the game. The guy who has the season ticket and can either go to the game and yell all sorts of vile things about Lane Kiffin -- and/or his mother -- or sell the ticket on StubHub to a Bama fan. Go to the game! Yell all sorts of vile things about Lane Kiffin to anyone within megaphone earshot. Make sure they're such that they cannot be repeated here. This is a tough time to be a fan and to have to face difficult realities about your team and the program and the progress they're making. I know this; you know this; freaking Marsellus knows this. But rise above it on this (recognized) Third Saturday in October. Make sure Neyland is still electric -- that the place still *feels* like it matters even if we wonder when the program will again be relevant. Make it relevant even when we're not relevant. And don't listen to anything else I say besides this because I'm a Negative Nancy. Go get crazy. You and Marsellus both.
Hunter Turner - Our Collective Will
To be completely honest, I've had this game circled as a potential upset since the the beginning of the summer. Let's look at why: first, Alabama had to replace the starting quarterback, left tackle, and numerous other contributors; second, last year's Crimson Tide team seemed to struggle with a kind of collective entitlement that tended to manifest itself at the worst times; and, third, upsets happen far more often in college football than we expect, and the Vols are well enough coached that it's a viable option even against the most impressive opponents. To reiterate and summarize: Alabama has new players at the most important positions on the field; they're more a collection of raw talent than a team; and, Tennessee is due for a gigantic upset win.
This brings us to our Most Important Vol for this week and the rest of the season: Our Collective Will. What the heck am I talking about? Well, as Will keeps reminding us on a seemingly weekly basis, Team 118 is both inexperienced and lacking in depth. If anything, this year's Children's Hour Vol team has spoiled us by maturing faster and more spectacularly than we could have imagined before the season started. So while we should go into tomorrow's game expecting to win, we should also fortify ourselves against the disappointment and bitterness that would accompany a loss.
Yes, a loss would leave us needing to win three-of-four for a third straight year to achieve bowl eligibility.
No, this is not a call for blind loyalty, an entreaty to "trust the coaches", or a plea for the acceptance of mediocrity.
It's a recognition that after five years in the wilderness, we're waiting, hoping, and praying for a sign that the Promised Land is here, and the thirteen tribes of Vol Nation** are increasingly restless. If the Vols lose the Third Saturday in October, we shouldn't transfer any of our anger and bile from past failures to this year's team-- instead, let's judge this Tennessee team purely on its own merits.
Let's not engage in the kind of spiteful recriminations that are becoming de rigueur in some corners of the Internet.
Our Big Orange burning bush will come.
* In traditional German philosophy, this is referred to as "Kollektivwille" so yeah, that's an unnecessarily pedantic aside, but let's appreciate the beauty of the logical system for a second. ** In case you're wondering, the thirteen tribes are: Manning, Fulmer, Holloway, Majors, Neyland, Kelly, White, Wilson, Summitt, King, Lofton, Holdsclaw, and a secret unnamed thirteenth tribe.