Tennessee vs. Middle Tennessee State: Preview of the Volunteers' Homecoming Game
The Tennessee Volunteers couldn't have asked for a better week to play their in-state cousins, the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders.
It's homecoming in Knoxville, and it's high time for a Vols win.
The last time the Vols won, Tyler Bray was healthy, James Stone was snapping the ball and Brent Brewer was manning the safety position in the defensive secondary.
Now, the Vols are playing a true freshman at quarterback for the second consecutive year on homecoming, a first-year transfer is the new center and Brewer joined the All-Star lineup in the trainers' room for Tennessee.
Enough with the excuses, though!
Tennessee must defend its home state, and with two games left against Tennessee colleges, the push starts now.
How the Vols Will Win
After four straight losses, the Tennessee Volunteers are favored for the first time in a month.
The key to winning the game will be to follow legendary NFL head coach Dick Vermeil's sage advice: "Do. Your. Job."
Freshman quarterback Justin Worley had a mixed debut. He missed a touchdown to Da'Rick Rogers on the first scoring drive for the Vols, but then had a perfectly thrown 50-yard pass dropped by Rogers that would've easily gone for a score.
Worley needs to get back to basics and complete passes, while his receivers need to find their inner Justin Hunter.
Tennessee must also be able to run the ball against the porous MTSU Blue Raider defense. MTSU gives up 130 yards per game on the ground—a great statistic for the Vols' conference-worst 82.6 rushing yards per game.
James Stone was moved from center to guard to benchwarmer, so it's clear that the blame isn't solely on the running backs. Still, it's now or never for Poole and Marlin Lane.
Otherwise, I want to see Devrin Young getting carries.
Malik Jackson and the pleasantly surprising defensive line need to takeover the game. This unit has been perhaps the best on the entire team post-Tyler Bray/Justin Hunter injuries, and it's thanks in large part to Jackson.
He's interviewing for the NFL right now, and he's adding to his future bank account. Tackles for losses, hurries and sacks will play a huge roll in the defense's ability to keep the MTSU offense at bay.
How the Blue Raiders Will Win
I kind of have a foot in both camps with this game.
While I'm a lifelong fan and alumnus of the University of Tennessee, I grew up in Murfreesboro, home of MTSU. I've got love in my heart for the Blue Raiders, but facts are facts, and MTSU is terrible.
Middle Tennessee has to reach deep down within itself to pull off this upset, even over a demoralized Tennessee Volunteers team. The Blue Raiders are 2-5, and are coming off a blowout loss at home to powerhouse Louisiana-Lafayette.
Blue Raiders quarterback Logan Kilgore has thrown three touchdowns in each of MTSU's two wins, but has also thrown a total of three interceptions in the two games.
He and the rest of the offense have to limit their turnovers to one (maybe) in order to win. Tennessee is one of the worst SEC teams at creating turnovers, so that's favorable.
Other than that, MTSU has to have every break go their way.
The combined record of the two teams who MTSU have beaten is 2-14. As bad as the Vols have had it this year, they have more wins than those two teams combined, they're playing at home and they are desperate to get their fourth win.
What the Line Is Doing
The line opened at Tennessee -20.5 and has pushed slightly to -21.
That's probably about right, so long as Justin Worley can keep from turning the ball over within the five yard line.
Most of the points in the spread come from the likelihood of the MTSU Blue Raiders being limited on offense. The quiet Volunteers defense has held SEC opponents to 22 points at home, including LSU's 31 point outburst.
Is MTSU's offense going to put up more than Georgia or South Carolina? I doubt it.
The only other question remaining is whether the Vols can post 28 to 25 points.
I have to be a little bearish on this possibility. Worley is perfectly capable of posting huge stats and contributing in a Tyler Bray-esque way against this opponent, but he has to locate his confidence.
I'm not taking either side, but I have to say that it wouldn't surprise me if MTSU covers.
Justin Worley, Take Two
Time to play the If Game:
If Justin Worley could have hit one of two open passes on the Tennessee Volunteers' scoring drive...
If Da'Rick Rogers can reel in a beautifully thrown 50-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter...
If Worley takes his time and finds an open receiver in the end zone from the three-yard line after Prentiss Waggner's interception...
Then the freshman quarterback ends up 13 of 26 passing with 170 yards and two touchdowns to just one interception.
The If Game always makes you cringe. Also, the Vols win the game 14-7.
The point is not to say that Worley had a great game. Quite the contrary, as made evident by the reinsertion of Matt Simms into the game.
But Worley was just three passes away from having a completely different debut with the Vols.
Can Worley and Co. close the deal on two or three plays this week?
I think yes. I'm excited (again) to watch the kid sling it.
The Tennessee Volunteers will beat the MTSU Blue Raiders on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium.
The question will be how Tennessee uses the game to rebuild its confidence and work out the kinks for a three-game SEC run to the finish, including an in-state bout with Vanderbilt that won't be such a snoozer.
Tennessee: 31, MTSU: 10