Last season, the Rebels beat the Vols 42-17. Surely we can beat them this year after they've had to replace their entire offensive line, right? Right? Well, I guess we'll see. The Volunteers aren't what anyone would call "good" this year, but they're also not terrible, and the Rebs aren't exactly knocking on the door of the top 25 either.
This game is going to be a tough fight for both sides. Each team has trouble stopping the pass and has questions at quarterback. Which team can overcome all their issues? Find out after the jump.
First, let's talk about the rankings of Tennessee's offense. The Vols don't move the ball very well, ranking 11th in Scoring (24.9), 10th in total (351), 12th in rushing (119), 6th in passing (232), 8th in pass efficiency (133), and 12th in sacks allowed (31). Obviously, the stat in that group Nix will key in on is sacks allowed. I would guess that the Rebels will blitz early and often with a true freshman QB under center in Tyler Bray. Speaking of Bray, we need a game like his outing against Bama (5/14 for 39 yards and a pick) and not one like his effort against Memphis (19/33 for 325 yards and 5 TDs). It should be noted that Memphis sports, statistically, the worst secondary in the country. However, again... the Rebels aren't too good either.
The Vols also appear to have a late blooming target in senior WR Denarius Moore, who has 588 yards this season. He's coming off of two monster games in his past two weeks with six receptions for a powerful 228 yards against South Carolina followed by 6 receptions for 103 against Memphis. Now, our secondary isn't exactly in a position where they can afford to devote themselves to stopping one receiver, but if we choose to go that route, Moore is probably the right choice.
Tauren Poole has been a steady back on an otherwise poor rushing team so far in 2010. He has racked up 729 yards on the ground at 5.2 a clip. He's not much of a threat out of the backfield, so that's a relief, but we all know that screens exploit our defensive lapses in judgement, so hopefully we'll be on the lookout for that.
Really, stopping Tennessee on offense relies on ensuring that Bray plays like a freshman. If the Vols are able to move the ball well through the air, we're toast.
Defensively, the Vols don't do much better, ranking, 9th in scoring (28.7), 11th in total (396), 9th in rushing (156.3), 9th in pass (239), 7th in efficiency (127), 4th in picks (10), and 10th in sacks (15). Problems stopping the run and getting to the passer are music to the ears of Rebel fans. The Vols' sack leader is DE Malik Jackson with 3 sacks and 33 tackles. That sack number is low, but I wish we had a defensive end with tackle numbers like that; Lamark Armour is our leading DE tackler with 16.
Free safety Prentiss Waggner has three fumble recoveries and two interceptions, and that scares me. The last thing we need is a player on defense who has shown a capability of getting to loose or poorly-thrown balls. I know that a lot of people discount fumble recovery numbers, and I know they don't speak volumes, but I think that players who can get to the ball and pick it up when it's on the ground can really help a team in tough situations.
Our gameplan should be to open up the offense and really sling the ball against an outnumbered secondary. The Vols are down to three corners worth anything and aren't really capable of a dime package. If we go four or five-wide, we can really play mismatches against them. That being said, we'll run the ball a lot with Masoli and even more if Stanley is forced to start. That's really a shame too, because if there's anyone we can pass well against, it's this team.
In miscellaneous stats, the Vols are the least penalized team in the league and have a turnover margin of exactly zero. If we're going to win, we need to confuse Bray in his second start and test the Tennessee secondary in the way that Jacksonville State tested ours. I hope that we're able to stretch the field and make things happen.
So.... my prediction. I'm going to guess that Bray is able to dismantle our secondary the way that many quarterbacks before him have. The Tennessee coaches will put him into situations where he only has one or two looks, and those one or two looks will often be open. On offense, we'll focus on running the ball and just won't be able to score enough to keep up with the Vols.
Tennessee by 4.