Will Shelton - A.J. Johnson
For the Vols to have a chance to win this game in the fourth quarter it will take something above and beyond on both sides of the ball. And while I think Justin Worley has certainly played better so far this year, this type of performance is still more likely from the defensive side of the ball. That begins and ends with A.J. Johnson in the middle, who through two games leads the team in tackles with 18, which is tied for the lead among SEC players. The Vols will have to be good everywhere, but it will remain very important to not let small gains turn into big gains and to make plays to get off the field without an assist from Lil Jon this time. Johnson is Tennessee's leader and the center of the defensive effort. If he can perform at or even above what he's been doing and the other 10 guys continue to follow his effort, the Vols will have a chance to compete.
Incipient_Senescence – Josh Malone
Marquez North is going to be a factor, but he can't be the only factor on offense if Tennessee wants to win. And since I don't foresee the running game being better against Oklahoma than they were against Arkansas State, that means this group of receivers is going to have to make a difference. And make a difference without what seems to be their second-biggest weapon in Von Pearson. So who's going to step up? Josh Smith is becoming more reliable, but he's not a game-changer. Neither is Josh Malone, but he has the skill set to be a game-changer, and this would be an excellent occasion for his coming out party.
Kid Bourbon – Marquez North
What are these shiny new objects that I_S likes? Give me Marquez North any ole day of the week. He's not 40, but that guy is a man. He's like a rich man's Day Rick Rogers but without the extra baggage. Need him to go deeep? Done. Need him go win a jump ball over any DB and any and all of their cousins? Done. Need him to get #beastmode-y all over the middle of the field? Sure thing; that's what Marquez North does.
We're all now pretty much resigned to the fact that Justin Worley has limitations as a QB that aren't going away. At his best, Worley doesn't bring anything to the table, but doesn't take anything off either. At his worst. Worley takes stuff off the table. Marquez North promptly picks that stuff up and places it back on the table. He's the Worley-limitation-ameliorater. Simply stated, he's a stud, and our offense needs to lean on him heavily until -- and that's an 'if' -- defenses show they can stop him. #beastmode
Chris Pendley – Matt Darr
So by now y'all have figured out I'm not the most optimistic about this week. So far, Darr has been ...not great in terms of flipping field position, but this is going to be a game where friggin' everything needs to be dead on. That includes punting (because as we know, punting is winning). I don't trust the offensive line to be consistently successful against a strong Oklahoma front seven, so given that? Well, better hope the hidden yardage games are on.
That means Darr's going to need to get his field-flipping boots on, put the defense in spots where they get to defend 70-80 yards of territory instead of 55-65, and then hope enough breaks go Tennessee's way for something impressive to happen.
(I also wanted to let someone take Cam Sutton for a week.)
Hunter Turner – Derek Barnett
Most of the time when an SEC team wins against a high scoring non-SEC offense, it starts up front with the defensive line. From Nick Fairley singlehandedly dominating the Oregon offensive line in the 2010 season to Sterling Bailey repeatedly blowing up the Clemson run game this year, fast and powerful defensive linemen are the building blocks for big out-of-conference wins. There's some universe in which the Vols could win a shoot out in Norman (say, the 2012 offense with the 2011 defense), but given the inexperience on the offensive line, it's too much to ask quarterback Justin Worley to do his best Peyton Manning impression and sling his way to victory. Instead, the recipe for a Tennessee upset starts with an aggressive, disciplined defense smothering the Sooners' short passing and running game.
Oklahoma wants to spread the Vols out with a hurry-up-no-huddle that is very similar to the offense that Bajakian is running at Tennessee, with veteran wide receiver Sterling Shepard playing Pig Howard's role as an underneath pass catcher and speed option running threat. The Sooners will continuously test the edge against Tennessee, using a variety of packaged plays (think read-option, jet sweep, and double screens) that will require the defense to remain disciplined and stay in their rush lanes. Although the Vols have been better against the outside run through two games (largely bottling up dual threat quarterbacks Chuckie Keeton and Freddie Knighton), Oklahoma has the skill position talent to threaten the length of the field that Utah State and Arkansas State do not.
Here's where Derek Barnett comes in: the Sooners' offensive line is huge, but slow-footed and ponderous. Corey Vereen's speed has the potential to give the Oklahoma tackles absolute fits, which means that Barnett will likely face one-on-one matchups against offensive linemen and running back/h-backs. If Barnett can harness his physical talent, stay disciplined, and make plays as they present themselves, Tennessee will have a chance to control the Sooner front without committing extra players to the box. Despite his gaudy stats in last year's bowl game, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight has been a decidedly mixed bag as a starter, making poor throws into traffic off of his back foot when facing pressure, and turning the ball over with some regularity.
In order for Tennessee to have a chance at the upset, Barnett and the rest of the defensive line have to keep AJ Johnson and the linebackers free to make plays, and force Knight into methodical drives where the Vols can cause turnovers.
Joel Hollingsworth – Justin Worley
The defense and field position are going to be key, yes, but we're still going to have to score points. And if we aren't very confident about the offensive line and the run game, then it's up to the passing game. Malone and North are good, but they're not likely to throw the ball to themselves, so that means it's up to Justin Worley. I'm not going to mistake the guy for Peyton Manning, but I don't agree at all that Worley doesn't bring anything to the table or that he's as good now as he's ever going to be and can never get any better. Frankly, I think he's doing quite well so far, and I think remedying his primary limitation -- the deep ball -- is just a matter of time. Now would be a good time.