The Vols head into a high-noon matchup against the Ohio Bobcats this Saturday at Neyland. It may sound strange, but we may actually see more of a passing attack this week, and if the team can do that well, get off the field on defense, make the most of its special teams advantage, and above all make sure they're awake and alert in time to take on a dangerous opponent, they should be fine this weekend.
Pass the ball. No, really. Pass the ball.
Fans have been clamoring for the Vols to make use of all of their weapons, and the weapon they're wanting to see the most is the one they've seen the least: the passing game. The Vols are currently 118th in Passing Offense, and the worst part of it is that that is actually worse than it was last year when it was already bad.
I am generally all for playing to your strengths and not trying to be who you aren't, but this week is an exception. The Ohio Bobcats are currently 15th in Rushing Defense, allowing only 66 yards per game. Sure, that's proabably largely due to the level of competition. After all, they've only played Texas State and Kansas so far. In addition, Ohio's first two opponents also seem to be pass-first teams. Texas State is 109th in Rushing Offense but 4th in Passing Offense, and Kansas is 113th and 24th in those categories. So maybe that scary-looking 66 yards is a function of bad opponents who don't even know that running the ball is a thing.
But the flip side of all of that is that the Ohio defense is an absolute sieve in the passing game, allowing 323 passing yards per game. The Vols will want to run the ball, of course, and maybe they won't have any trouble doing so against Ohio when the actual teams (as opposed to just their stats) line up against each other. Regardless, this week appears to provide the team an opportunity to get the passing game going. Whether they'll need that to win or just want to use it to better prepare for the coming weeks (and to give those opponents more to think about) doesn't matter. Pass the ball. If we can't do it against Ohio, we might as well know now.
Get off the field on defense
This is always the goal, of course, but do you remember looking up at the clock against App State and noticing your team behind with only 5:00 left in the third quarter and wondering where in the world all of the time went? The Mountaineers had success running the ball, and they took their sweet time doing it. Ohio's offense is not much different, the only question being whether they'll be as successful at doing it as App State. The Bobcats are getting 283 rushing yards per game, and they are third in time possession at just over 38:00 per game. If them milking the clock between plays is inevitable, the only thing the Vols defense can do is limit the number of plays, and that means shortening drives. Limit first and second down and then prevent the third down conversion attempt. It could be THE key to this game.
We've learned this week that one of the primary keys to our offense is our special teams unit giving the offense the field position that makes it easier for them to put up yards and score. Not only is it a strength of the Vols' football team, it is apparently a weakness for the Bobcats. In two games, they've given up 355 yards and one touchdown on kickoff returns. And here's the really good news: Sophomore kicker Louie Zervos has only two touchbacks on eight kickoffs. Evan Berry is having some trouble with a hamstring, but coach Jones said yesterday that he expects him to play. Don't expect the same awesome-against-terrible on punt returns -- they've covered three for -10 yards so far this season -- but we do still have awesome-against-good on those plays.
Wake up early
To the extent that any part of the problem against App State was looking past them to the next game, the team needs to avoid doing that at all this week. Tell the team that if they get up by four touchdowns, they can hand off to the backups and take the rest of the game off, but they need to earn it first. Don't do it backwards, borrowing and then having to work hard in the second half to pay it off. Cash up front, guys. Also, this is a dreaded noon game, and apparently, upsets happen more at noon than at night. Maybe that's bunk, but just in case, the team needs to make sure they're awake and ready to go at kickoff.
Do all of that, and the team should be fine this week. Fail to do any of that, and it could get interesting. I am rooting for non-interesting this week.
My prediction for Saturday: Tennessee 42, Ohio 24
Here are the stat comparisons. Just note the caveats about the insufficiency of the data.
|Tennessee||Ohio||Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Next Worst||Next Best||Next Worst||Next Best|
|Tennessee rushing offense vs. Ohio rushing defense||183.0||66.0||Appalachian State||None||Appalachian State||None||200|
|Tennessee passing offense vs. Ohio passing defense||141.5||323.0||None||Appalachian State||None||Appalachian State||300|
|Tennessee rushing defense vs. Ohio rushing offense||185.0||283.0||Appalachian State||None||Appalachian State||None||160|
|Tennessee passing defense vs. Ohio passing offense||161.0||280.0||Virginia Tech||None||Virginia Tech||None||200|
|Tennessee scoring offense vs. Ohio scoring defense||32.5||38.5||None||Virginia Tech||None||Virginia Tech||42|
|Tennessee scoring defense vs. Ohio scoring offense||18.5||45.5||Virginia Tech||None||Virginia Tech||None||24|