Tennessee at No. 3 Ole Miss
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (60,580) • Oxford, Miss.
Series Record: Tennessee leads 44-19-1
Setting the table:
Most people realized, even before the season, that this would be a tough challenge for the Vols. Few, however, had any idea that Tennessee would be facing the No. 3 team in the nation and might have its biggest task of the entire season in front of it on Saturday. The Rebels are loaded and are playing their best football in decades. They haven’t been ranked this high since the 1964 season. Their complete squad is led by quarterback Bo Wallace, a Tennessee native, but it’s their defense that causes the toughest matchup for the Vols. UT, meanwhile, got back in the win column last week against Chattanooga. But that didn’t take away the sting of three straight losses prior to that, particularly the heartbreaking on to Florida on Oct. 4. Saturday will be another huge challenge for this young team against a program that has taken huge steps in recent years, but that’s just life in the SEC.
Where Ole Miss has the edge:
Virtually everywhere is the most honest answer. The Rebels will certainly hold the edge when their defense is on the field – particularly against Tennessee’s struggling offensive line. The Vols struggled to run against UTC last week and conceded five sacks to Mocs. How much worse could it be against a loaded Ole Miss front with multiple NFL prospects and a unit that ranks near the top of the SEC in virtually every defensive category? And though Tennessee’s defense has been the strength of the team, it’ll still be a challenge to stop Ole Miss’s offense with Wallace at the helm. He has several talented receivers and tight ends, most notably including receiver Laquon Treadwell, who many feel is among the talented players at his position in the nation. Their offensive line, anchored by left tackle Laremy Tunsil, is improving as well.
Where Tennessee has the edge:
It’s hard to find one clear area. Perhaps the Vols can get the upper hand when Ole Miss runs. The Rebels – which use a running-back-by-committee approach in the backfield – average just 145.6 yards per game on the ground. That’s good for only 12th in the conference. Tennessee’s defensive front has seen some very talented backs this year and won’t be intimidated by anything the Rebels throw at them.
“When you look at them, a very, very complete football team. No. 2 in the country in defensive scoring, they have only given up six offensive touchdowns all year, a number of those have come at the end of game situations. 32 percent on third down efficiency, very explosive. Again, I think it is a byproduct of depth and it is a byproduct of experience. They return nine out of 11 starters from last year, many key backups were also starters last year, that have started many games for them. They are playing with a lot of confidence, they have 12 interceptions, so they take the ball away, they run exceptionally well to the football”
– Tennessee head coach Butch Jones on Ole Miss
• The Vols have lost six straight games against teams from the SEC West. In those games, the West teams have come into the contest with a 47-2 cumulative record.
• The Vols haven’t defeated a top-3 team since knocking off Georgia 19-14 on Oct. 9, 2004.
• Tennessee running back Marlin Lane (ankle) and defensive tackle Owen Williams (thumb) are both questionable for the contest
Anything can happen in the SEC – especially this year. The Rebels have looked human a couple times this season, though they’re playing their best football in many years after knocking off Alabama and Texas A&M in consecutive weeks. This game doesn’t stack up well for the Vols, however. It’s hard to envision them being able to block the Ole Miss front seven with any consistency. And the Ole Miss offense has enough weapons to do some damage, even against UT’s confident defense. Expect the Vols to struggle to move the ball and put many points on the board. The defense will hold its own, but that likely won’t be enough for Tennessee to leave Oxford with the upset victory.