Another disappointing October has mercifully come to an end for the Vols (3-5, 0-5 SEC). Tennessee's traditionally successful month of November has finally dawned. With the new month the Vols welcome the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (2-5, 1-3 Sun Belt) to Knoxville for just the second time in program history.
The Vols ride a six game winning streak in the month of November into Saturday night's Homecoming game. Since 1990, Tennessee is 74-12 in the regular season's final month.
Going into Saturday night's game, these two teams couldn't possibly be more opposite. Middle Tennessee is averaging a Sun Belt Conference best, 462 yards per game on offense. The Blue Raiders defense, however, is giving up 440 yards per game.
Since losing quarterback Tyler Bray to a broken thumb on Oct. 8, Tennessee's offense has been anything but prolific. The Vols have scored just 28 points in their last four games. Granted, those games were against Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and South Carolina—four of the toughest defenses in the country.
On defense, Tennessee's first unit is as tough as it gets in the SEC east. The Vols lack of depth on defense has been the main culprit in long second half drives against some of the best teams in the SEC.
Tennessee will send true freshman quarterback Justin Worley into battle again Saturday. He should have a much easier time against the Blue Raiders than he did against one of the SEC best secondaries (South Carolina) last weekend.
Here's what you can expect to see Saturday night in Knoxville.
When Tennessee Has the Ball
Tennessee has had a devil of a time getting anything going on the ground this season. There have been a few bright spots, but the Vols couldn't even exploit a South Carolina team that was giving up 130 yards on the ground per game last weekend.
Luckily for Tennessee, the Blue Raiders are giving up almost five yards per rushing attempt and 218 rushing yards per game. In addition, Middle Tennessee is No. 59 in the country against the pass giving up 222 yards per game through the air.
Expect the Vols to establish the run game early. Tauren Poole will likely have one of his best nights of the season against this weak run defense.
Justin Worley should make a few believers against the Blue Raiders as well. Worley showed some glimpses against South Carolina last weekend with accurate passes into the tiniest of passing windows. He won't face anywhere near the pressure that South Carolina's defense brought. And as long as his receivers come to play, the freshman should pick Middle Tennessee apart.
When Middle Tennessee Has the Ball
The Blue Raiders run a spread offense and throw the daylights out of the ball. Averaging 290 passing yards per game, Middle Tennessee leads the Sun Belt in that category and is third in total passing yards.
Quarterback Logan Kilgore has thrown for 1,869 yards this season, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes.
With three starting offensive linemen out due to injury and the questionable status of leading receiver Malcolm Beyah for the Tennessee game, the Blue Raiders will be hard pressed to keep up their league-leading per game passing average against the Vols.
It was already going to be hard enough for Middle Tennessee in Neyland Stadium on homecoming against the Vols. The personnel losses for the Blue Raiders have all but ended any opportunity for a shocker on Saturday night.
What Will Happen
This game will be the cure for all that ails the Vols. Middle Tennessee's defense is one of the more permeable in the country. The Vols will likely run all over the Blue Raiders on the ground and Justin Worley's precision passing attack should come into focus Saturday night.
On defense, the Vols will likely dominate. Kilgore, the Blue Raiders quarterback, has thrown four interceptions in his last two games.
Tennessee needs a confidence boost going into the season's final stretch against Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Luckily, this weekend's game will provide that much-needed breakthrough on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
The Blue Raiders are giving up 34 points per game. Tennessee has an excellent opportunity to score more points Saturday night than they have in their last four games.
Prediction: Tennessee 34-9