Saturday Tennessee returns to the confines of Neyland Stadium as they step out of conference to host (2-1) South Alabama. For head coach Butch Jones it's been a competition week as the first year head man has challenged his team noting starting jobs were on the line in an effort to get his team to prepare this week as they did a week ago in their SEC season opener at Florida.
The obvious questions for the Vols are on the offensive side of the ball. Can the Vols generate a rhythm in the passing game? Is Justin Worley the quarterback for this team or will a freshman make his debut? Regardless of who is the quarterback can this team generate more big plays. The Vols have just 11 plays of 20 yards or more this season. That's one splash play per 24 offensive snaps.
"I have to trust my eyes more. I have to trust what I'm seeing post snap,â€ Worley explained. "You always get a pre-snap look at everything, but things change after the snap. So I have to get a post-snap confirmation of what the defense is doing and trust what I'm seeing.
"I think it's more being late with the ball and potentially being behind the receiver with the ball and things like that."
Defensively, the Vols are showing growth. Veterans Marlon Walls and Corey Miller are playing the best ball of their careers. Youth is developing in defensive backs Cameron Sutton and Devaun Swafford. Then there is the arrival of defensive end Corey Vereen who certainly made a quick impression on everyone in 7 snaps in the Swamp.
This week as the Jaguars come to Knoxville, the defense's challenge is to continue an offense that features mobility at the quarterback position. Something that John Jancek's group didn't do a good job of a week ago as Florida back up Tyler Murphy rushed for 84 yards on 10 carries.
The Vol defense will again be challenged in the middle of the football field. Tight end Wes Saxton is the team's leading receiver yardage wise with 185 yards on 12 catches. Safety Brian Randolph played his best game a week ago at Florida is did other defenders like Marlon Walls and Brent Brewer. The challenge for the defense is to complete and play at the level they played at a week ago at Florida.
Despite the loss last week at Florida, Jones left Gainesville with optimism about the direction of things with his football team overall. He saw emotion in losing. He saw a better effort on film and he hopes that his team has those emotions and desires for a second straight week as he continues to try and change the culture.
"Moving forward we will find out a lot more about our football team, our competitive character, our leadership, this senior class, the way we approach this week, our preparation, controlling what we can control and getting ready for a very good South Alabama football team. I think everything is how we respond. I meant it, for the first time I really felt remorse in the locker room, I thought our players laid it on the line, they were visibly upset. When you invest more you put more into it, it is direct correlation to your commitment level. It is how do we respond."
Tennessee holds the edge in most all areas of the match-up against the Jaguars. The one neutralizer we have seen in recent years is a mobile quarterback and South Alabama brings that to the table. So Tennessee's biggest challenge in this match-up would appear to be trying to continue quarterbacks Brandon Bridge and Ross Metheny. The duo has combined for 200 yards rushing and 715 yards passing with 8 combined rushing and throwing touchdowns.
Defensive end Jacques Smith is well versed in mobile quarterbacks and knows the challenge of setting the edge and playing with the right leverage.
"South Alabama has two incredibly athletic quarterbacks," Smith said. "And our defensive line play, week by week we've been improving. I'll say with this week of preparation, all the things and techniques we're working on will show on Saturday."
"I know both of them are very good," safety Brent Brewer added. "They can both run, so we have to contain our lanes and play hard."
For a closer look at the rest of the match-up's, check out How they match-up from Rob Lewis.
The need for big plays is the biggest growing trend with the Vol offense. On the season, they have 11 plays of 20 yards or more. And the bottom line is what when the Vols hit a splash play the usually means points.
Against Florida both scoring drives included a play of 20 yards or more. Against, Oregon one of the two scoring drives had a splash play in it. Against Western Kentucky, the Vols had 6 offensive scoring drives, 4 of those 6 drives included a play of 20 yards of more. And against Austin-Peay, 2 of the Vols scoring drives had a play of 20 yards or more. So 9 of the 11 splash plays have been in scoring drives.
MAXIM THAT MATTERS
Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game
Tennessee is a better team than South Alabama. The Vols are coming off two difficult road trips, but the Vols have plenty to play for and Saturday is important in taking another step in becoming a more consistent team in terms of their preparations.
South Alabama does have some offensive weapons and can cause a team problems if you give them opportunities. They rallied to beat Western Kentucky thanks to three Hilltopper interceptions in the second half.
Tennessee can't give the Jaguars anything easy which means they must take care of the ball and not make critical mistakes. Obviously turnovers killed them at Florida last week. And if you got back to Tennessee's match-up with Western Kentucky. The Vols did their best to let the Hilltoppers back into the game with a horrible play in punt protection allowing a block that was turned into a touchdown just before the half.