Tennessee Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of November
In a scenario that should be all too familiar to Tennessee fans, the Volunteers are heading into November and needing a near sweep of the remaining teams on the schedule to secure bowl eligibility.
At one point during the first quarter of Saturday's game against No. 3 Alabama, it looked like the Crimson Tide were in the process of not only dismantling the Vols on the field, but also dismantling any belief the players and coaches had in the team's progress in recent weeks.
Enter Joshua Dobbs.
As soon as the sophomore quarterback stepped in to replace Nathan Peterman, Tennessee's offense and defense came alive. Dobbs made plays with his feet and looked poised, calm and confident against one of college football's best defenses.
Ultimately, Tennessee fell short and lost 34-20, but the mood among Vols fans after the game was one of renewed hope and optimism.
Although Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has yet to name a starter for Saturday's game against the South Carolina Gamecocks, it's hard to imagine it being anyone other than Dobbs.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's play-calling has been criticized throughout the season, but his offense looked like a well-oiled machine with Dobbs at the helm.
Now that the Vols have found their quarterback for the foreseeable future, how will the rest of the season play out?
Here are game-by-game predictions for the four remaining games of Tennessee's 2014 season.
November 1, South Carolina Gamecocks
The South Carolina Gamecocks are one of college football's most inconsistent teams.
After being a preseason favorite to win the SEC East and challenge for the conference championship, the Gamecocks were blown out by Texas A&M 52-28 in front of a home crowd in Williams-Brice Stadium.
South Carolina rebounded with three straight wins, including one over No. 6 Georgia, before losing three straight SEC games to Kentucky, Missouri and Auburn.
Despite the losses, the Gamecocks are a talented and deep team, and it's unlikely the players have forgotten that Tennessee ruined their chance at a rematch of the 2010 SEC Championship Game last season.
Still, South Carolina's defense isn't what it used to be, and neither are its hopes for the season. At 4-4 and with four SEC losses, the Gamecocks are irrelevant in the conference. For a team used to winning 11 games every year, that could make it difficult for the players to get motivated to face a Tennessee team that's winless in the conference.
With the Gamecocks' defense having a week to prepare, quarterback Josh Dobbs may not have the same level of success that he did last week against Alabama, but he will do enough to keep the chains moving for Tennessee and allow Jalen Hurd to have his first breakout game.
Final Score Prediction: Tennessee 31, South Carolina 24
November 15, Kentucky Wildcats
Tennessee has won 28 of its past 29 games against Kentucky.
Were it not for a disastrous game in 2011 in which the Wildcats beat the Vols with a wide receiver playing quarterback, the winning streak would be the longest active in the nation.
That's not to say Tennessee should take Kentucky lightly. No. 1 Mississippi State got all it could handle against the Wildcats on Saturday, as the team proved it has taken major steps forward under the direction of second-year head coach Mark Stoops.
After a revolving door at the quarterback position, the Wildcats seem to be settled with Patrick Towles, a sophomore and top-rated player from the Bluegrass State in 2012, per 247Sports.
Towles threw for 390 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs and is a big reason the Kentucky fans and coaches feel the program is improving, according to The Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker.
While Kentucky's offense is greatly improved, the defense tends to give up points, including 36 against a Florida Gators squad led by hapless Jeff Driskel, who threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns against the Wildcats.
Expect this to be a high-scoring shootout, as quarterback Josh Dobbs and Towles both pick up big yardage on the ground. In the end, Tennessee's home-field advantage and edge on defense will be too much for the Wildcats to overcome.
Final Score Prediction: Tennessee 42, Kentucky 38
November 22, Missouri Tigers
Like South Carolina, the Missouri Tigers are capable of being a dangerous team at times, but also capable of being downright mediocre.
Missouri's performance against the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday was lethargic and full of penalties. In fact, the Tigers committed 14 of them in 60 minutes.
A last-second win over South Carolina and a blowout win over the Florida Gators look pretty good on Missouri's resume, but this same team also lost to the lowly Indiana Hoosiers at home and got blown out by the Georgia Bulldogs, also at home.
The Tigers' quarterback Maty Mauk filled in nicely for James Franklin last season, but he has been underwhelming this season.
Mauk is throwing for just 171 yards per game, which ranks 113th in FBS, according to ESPN. The Tigers defense, on the other hand, is among the top 25 in the country.
For the Vols to win this game, Tennessee's defense will need to shut down Mauk and Missouri's leading rusher, Russell Hansbrough. The Vols' front seven is good enough to get consistent pressure on Mauk and force him to make mistakes, and with nine interceptions on the season, he's liable to give up a few turnovers each game.
If the Vols can control the time of possession and Josh Dobbs can extend plays with his feet, Missouri won't be able to put many points on the board.
Tennessee is 0-2 against the Tigers since they joined the SEC, and there are several Vols players who remember letting Missouri steal a win in Neyland Stadium in 2012—and they'll be motivated to keep it from happening again.
Final Score Prediction: Tennessee 21, Missouri 17
November 29, Vanderbilt Commodores
The good news for Vanderbilt fans is that the team appears to have found its quarterback in freshman Johnny McCrary. The bad news is the rest of the team still needs a lot of work.
The Commodores are 2-6 and are unlikely to win an SEC game before the Vols arrive in Nashville to close out the regular season.
Although Vanderbilt looks slightly improved since its disastrous season-opening blowout loss to Temple, the Commodores are still ranked 100th or worse in FBS in passing yards, rushing yards, total offense and total defense, according to ESPN.com statistics.
The fact is, Vanderbilt just isn't good at any phase of the game right now.
Combine that with the fact that the Vols will be looking for revenge after two straight losses to the 'Dores and potentially needing this win for bowl eligibility and it's hard to imagine anything other than a big win for the Orange and White.
Final Score Prediction: Tennessee 28, Vanderbilt 7