Tennessee Volunteers Football: 5 Things To Expect from the Cincinnati Game
It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win. Now that Tennessee has dispatched its first opponent, it's time to look on toward Cincinnati.
A week ago, I would've dismissed the importance of this game. Cincinnati is a bottom-dweller Big East program, so why would Tennessee need to worry about them?
Well, South Florida just beat No. 16 Notre Dame and West Virginia rolled past Marshall, so the Big East doesn't look too bad this year.
Furthermore, Cincinnati got a vote to be ranked in the most recent AP Poll.
This game looks like it may be much more important than anticipated, so what will the Vols be trying to accomplish? Read on for the top five things to look for.
1. Establishing the Run
To say that Tennessee had a tough time running the ball against Montana is an understatement. Whether it was due to a muddy field, Tauren Poole not being back to 100 percent or something else, Tennessee's rushing attack was anemic.
With the defensive lines Tennessee will face later in the season, that is simply unacceptable.
So, will Tennessee try to avoid running the ball against Cincinnati? Don't count on it.
Even with Cincinnati's Derek Wolfe stuffing the holes, Derek Dooley knows that a team that can't run the ball can't win. Tennessee will be figuring out the run all week and on Saturday they'll plan on running it straight down Cincinnati's throat.
I'd like to think of the sputtering run game against Montana as a fluke. Cincinnati has a tough defensive line, so if Tennessee can run it on them, they can run it on just about anybody.
2. Stopping the Run
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Another area Tennessee could use some improvement on is stuffing the run. Montana put up some big rushing numbers on Tennessee. Granted, most of those numbers were in the second half when Tennessee was resting players, but that doesn't matter.
Cincinnati has one of the best running backs in the country in Isaiah Pead and if Tennessee wants to limit his yards, they will have to improve.
Malik Jackson didn't have the best performance against Montana, but I suspect that he still wasn't 100 percent back from his injury earlier in the offseason.
Add to that the fact that all of Tennessee's linebackers were starting for the first time at the college level and you see why the front seven was lackluster.
With one game (and one win) under their belt, the front seven will be a little more cohesive, a little more aggressive and a little more disciplined against Cincinnati. I see improvement in the immediate future.
3. A Shootout
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Cincinnati's running game is what makes them a threat, but their pass attack is no slouch either.
They have a great quarterback in Zach Collaros and a decent group of receivers; four of the touchdowns they scored in their opener against Austin Peay were passes.
Yes, Austin Peay has only had 18 winning seasons in the last 74 years, but putting up 72 points is still something to take notice of.
Tennessee will not be able to take their passing attack lightly. Safety play against Montana was decent, but I expect more than that out of 2010 Second-Team All-American Prentiss Waggner. He will need to step his game up if Tennessee wants to win big.
On the other side of the ball, don't expect Tennessee to play as conservatively as they did against Montana. Now that the passing game has gotten some of its confidence back, I would like to see Bray rip it out to Hunter and Rogers a lot more than 17 times.
If Tennessee doesn't take a big lead early on, expect the passing offense to kick into full throttle and show Cincinnati how many points the SEC can score in one game.
4. A Closer Game Than You Think
Like I said in the introductory slide, Cincinnati is a bigger threat than I thought. Yeah, they just beat Austin Peay, but boy they REALLY beat Austin Peay.
Cincinnati has some good defenders, a solid quarterback and a great running back. They'll give Tennessee a good challenge and I see this as a positive thing.
After Cincinnati, Tennessee goes on to face Florida in the Swamp. Cincinnati is like a less-talented Florida (big D-line, experienced quarterback, solid rushing attack) and playing them will be great practice for bigger things.
Tennessee hit the brakes once it took a big lead against Montana. I don't think they'll have that luxury against Cincinnati—at least not until the fourth quarter.
5. A Victory
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So, Cincinnati is better than I thought. You know who's better than that? Tennessee.
Montana is a very good FCS team, so Tennessee's shortcomings against them are not catastrophic. Even though Tennessee obviously has some weaknesses, they were still able to score more or less at will in the first half before slowing down.
With Tyler Bray throwing to Justin Hunter (who looks better than last year) and Da'Rick Rogers (who looks almost as good), the Vols will have one of the better passing games in the SEC.
I mean that, too. Tennessee has some shortcomings, but its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Tennessee will still be very good this year. Cincinnati will be the first chance to see just how good.