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Tennessee vs Ohio Preview: Vanilla with Sprinkles

Appalachian State should have taught the Vols not to just put on their helmets and expect an easy time. How much difference will we see in the offense against Ohio?

NCAA Football: Battle at Bristol-Tennessee vs Virginia Tech Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

While nothing would thrill us more than to see the Vols come out and dominate Ohio by 28+ points, many of us are expecting more of that good old fashioned vanilla on Saturday. Save the fancy flavors for the Gators, give me two more scoops of Jalen Hurd, etc.

It’s hard to get a read on Team 120 because the Appalachian State game went so differently than we expected all off-season and then Virginia Tech put the ball on the ground five times. I’d submit it’s also hard to get a read on Ohio by way of Texas State and Kansas, ranking 114th and 112th in S&P+. Few teams have played two Top 60ish teams in their first two weeks like the Vols, and few teams have played two basement level FBS foes like the Bobcats.

Still, there’s enough here to make me think too much vanilla will lead to more indigestion. Keeping Dobbs’ carries to a minimum and just going straight ahead with Hurd plays into the strength of the Bobcat defense, 17th nationally in yards per carry allowed after two weeks. Being inefficient plays into the hands of an Ohio team that would love nothing more than to run the clock out: the Bobcats are the only team in the top five nationally in both time of possession and total plays, the latter of which they lead the country in with 190 snaps (and an assist to overtime) in two games. Yeah, Texas State and Kansas and all that, but this is also a team that’s been bowl eligible every year since 2009. Trying to do the math as Appalachian State was running the clock out in the third quarter was a terrible experience; if we get into this kind of game again we’ll find Ohio is no tasty cupcake either.

I don’t expect the Vols to use everything in their arsenal this week; blowing the doors off of teams like Ohio hasn’t been Butch Jones’ style. But I do think we’ll need a few wrinkles and a few sprinkles to make sure everybody in orange has a good time Saturday.

Case in point: some are complaining about Alvin Kamara not being involved enough, but Dobbs has actually targeted him even more in the pass game through two weeks. Last year he led all SEC backs in target rate at 12.6%, this year he’s been the intended receiver on a whopping 19.6% of Dobbs’ passes. Opposing defenses know that stat too: Kamara got 23 yards on the touchdown against Virginia Tech after the play broke down and Dobbs made something happen, but otherwise has five catches for 22 yards. It’s not fooling anyone. The Vols have to mix it up, not just by throwing downfield more but by using more variety in the short passing game. It’s a big opportunity week for Tyler Byrd with Josh Smith injured, and every week is a good week to remember we have Ethan Wolf.

There’s still only one football and only so many snaps, especially against a team like this. As we’ve spent most of this week discussing, the Vols have to become more efficient from down to down, and must continue to have the kind of explosive plays we’ve seen from Josh Malone’s hands and Josh Dobbs’ legs in their arsenal. This is a good week to work on it, but the Vols have to actually do the work: the game plan and the execution must continue to make forward progress, and if we take a week off from that, we may find ourselves in a similar noon-on-the-SEC-Network fate.

Or maybe Tennessee’s defense is more than enough to make this one easy. We’ll see.

Just a few sprinkles. Just a few. That’ll be enough to hold us over until next week, when we’ll find out if Tennessee’s vanilla can in fact be the Superman ice cream we’ve been waiting for all these years.

Go Vols.