The Vols opened as a 4.5-point favorite over Nebraska in the Music City Bowl, another close match-up for a Tennessee team that’s seen almost every one of its outcomes this season in doubt in the fourth quarter. What might we expect from the Cornhuskers?
- Explosiveness is Relative: In their advanced statistical profile at Football Study Hall, Nebraska’s offense ranks 108th nationally in explosiveness. The Cornhuskers are 84th nationally in 20+ yard plays with just 52 on the year. But against Tennessee’s depleted defense (which should get Todd Kelly Jr. back but I’m unsure who else) everyone gets a little explosive: Vanderbilt is 106th nationally in 20+ yard plays but had no problem finding them against us.
- Ball Security: Nebraska is one of only 18 teams in the country with 13 or fewer turnovers on the year. The Cornhuskers had a clean slate in their last three games. Remember fumble luck? Nebraska hasn’t lost a fumble since October 1 against Illinois.
- Taking Away Big Plays in the Passing Game: Nebraska has allowed only 25 20+ yard pass plays this season. That’s tied for fifth nationally. Among teams attempting 20+ passes against them, only J.T. Barrett averaged more than seven yards per attempt (26 of 38 for 290 yards and four touchdowns). Josh Dobbs has faced plenty of great defenses this year, but specifically against the pass this challenge should be right up there with them.
- A Tough Task for Derek Barnett: Nebraska is tied for sixth nationally in sacks allowed, giving up just 11 on the year. Tommy Armstrong averages 27 pass attempts per game, but his offensive line keeps him upright. Barnett needs one more sack to surpass the great Reggie White for the career record at Tennessee. He’ll have to earn it.
The biggest question for Tennessee will sound like oversimplification for Nebraska fans who haven’t seen the Vols since October, but it would be the same question regardless of opponent: can the Vols stop anyone? Tennessee’s defense has demanded perfection from Tennessee’s offense. I’m not sure we’re going to see perfection against Nebraska. How much can the Vols improve defensively between now and December 30?