clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Most Important Vol - Oklahoma

Our writing staff makes their weekly picks for the game's most important player in orange.

This is a tight end, not a quarterback Derek Barnett is hitting.  We need more of the latter this week.
This is a tight end, not a quarterback Derek Barnett is hitting. We need more of the latter this week.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Last week our staff hit most of the important pieces in both positive and negative ways.  Charlie had Alvin Kamara, who set a Tennessee record for rushing yards in a debut.  Chris and Hunter took offensive linemen, and there wasn't anything not to like there.  And our defensive choices - Colton Jumper, Emmanuel Moseley, and Malik Foreman - have gotten plenty of word count since Saturday.

Here are our Vols to watch this week in a much more important test:

Will Shelton - Coleman Thomas
One year and one position change later, Coleman Thomas had his best day as a Vol against Bowling Green last week playing center.  Tennessee was more dynamic in their blocking scheme: watch Thomas pull from center and make a great block on a defensive back on Jalen Hurd's first touchdown, something he also did well on Hurd's third score.  Of course, last year at Oklahoma was his worst day as a Vol, a true freshman in his first start playing right tackle against Eric Striker and the Sooner defense, which sacked Justin Worley five times and hit him countless others.  The biggest example of Tennessee struggling after the switch to Dobbs came against the strongest pass rush they faced in the loss to Missouri last year.  Striker got all the headlines last year and the run game all the headlines last week, but the offensive line is still Tennessee's most important question.  It would be a great redemption story for Thomas and the line to keep Dobbs safe and push the ball downfield in a Tennessee win.

Incipient_Senescence -- Derek Barnett
Honestly, it would be easy to pick Dobbs, a player on the offensive line, or anyone in the defensive back seven on this one. There are a lot of battles that Tennessee needs to win in order to beat Oklahoma. But one of the simplest (note I said "simplest," not "easiest") things they can do is get pressure on the quarterback. The Sooners are starting Baker Mayfield in his first road game since November of 2013, when he averaged 5.4 yards per attempt and threw an interception to close Texas Tech's season with a 41-16 loss to Texas in Austin. It would not be a shock to see the noise be a factor, and if Mayfield gets hit a few times early, it should compound the issues, putting him off his rhythm and hampering his ability to pick up yards on what looks like a vulnerable Tennessee secondary. And the best man for the job of hitting Mayfield is Barnett, a talented speed rusher with a mean streak. Barnett spent a fair bit of the Bowling Green game dropping into zone coverage, but I expect John Jancek to use him much more aggressively this Saturday in an attempt to rattle Mayfield and the Sooners' offense. If he succeeds, the rest of the defense's jobs become much easier.

Chris Pendley - The Not-Cam Sutton Cornerback Hydra
Since the rules make me pick one guy, I'm combining all the other corners into one amalgamation in order to fit the rules. (Keep quiet, science. I know what I'm doing here.) Bowling Green's WRs did pretty well against the non-Sutton corners last Saturday, and while the Sooners are breaking in a new scheme, they're also bringing more talent to Knoxville than BGSU did. The difficulty level isn't going down, which means they need to improve in a hurry.

Look, so long as Cam Sutton's on one side of the filed we know what we're getting. (The usual "let's see if Oklahoma takes a few times to figure out what they're getting" caveats apply.) Assuming Oklahoma figures out to not throw at Cam while the game's still a game, everyone else is going to need to step in to limit the damage. The return of Willie Martinez to the sidelines should help, but Tennessee won't win on Saturdaywithout substantial improvement from these guys.

Er, guy. Right.

Hunter Turner - Colton Jumper
Unless Butch Jones shakes things up and brings in true freshman Darrin Kirkland, walk-on Colton Jumper is going to start at middle linebacker against Oklahoma. The Sooners' offense will challenge Tennessee's defense to stay fundamentally sound against the power run game while also challenging the deep third of the field in the passing game. With wide receivers Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal stretching the field and pulling safeties deep, Jumper must read his keys and fill gaps against the run game while also keeping track of underneath wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs. If Derrick Barnett and the rest of the Tennessee defensive line force the Sooners into third-and-long, Jumper and Jalen Reeves-Maybin cannot allow a conversion on an underneath route. Last week, former five-star recruit and current Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon absolutely shredded Akron's linebackers in pass coverage, racking up 115 yards on 3 receptions, with a 76 yard touchdown reception on a short pass out of the backfield. Jumper must stay disciplined and play faster than he looked against Bowling Green, or the Vols' defense will have trouble stopping the Sooners.

Charlie Burris - Curt Maggitt
Tennessee has to get in the backfield and pressure OU quarterback Baker Mayfield on Saturday. Curt Maggitt needs to lead his unit and set up camp in Mayfield's space. Curt, Derek Barnett, and Darrin Kirkland Jr. need to buy a house and start paying property taxes in Oklahoma's backfield. In other words, they need to live there. Forcing Mayfield out of the pocket and forcing him into bad throws will take pressure off of the Vols secondary and likely cause OU to turn the ball over. UT can't afford to have another performance like the one they had against Bowling Green, getting burned through the air and the effort to stop an air attack starts at the defensive line and Curt Maggitt.

Nathanael Rutherford - Pig Howard
The defense will be important against the Oklahoma Sooners this Saturday. Bouncing back from a disappointing outing against Bowling Green is a must for the Vols this weekend. But Tennessee is going to have to outscore the Sooners (duh) to win, and unless the Vols plan on depending on special teams and the defense to score touchdowns, the offense is going to have to be effective. That's why Pig Howard is the most important Vol against Oklahoma. Howard was suspended for the season opener against Bowling Green, and while some receivers stepped up in his absence, it was still obvious the Vols were missing a play-maker in the passing game and Joshua Dobbs was missing one of his favorite targets. Howard being put back in Tennessee's offense will be big for Dobbs' confidence in the pass game, and it should open up a few avenues that weren't available against Bowling Green.