Coming off a 10-point loss to No. 1 Florida, Tennessee fans expect big things out of their team when the Vols host Ohio Saturday (7 p.m., PPV).
Tennessee (1-2, 0-1) opens as a 23-point favorite against the Bobcats (2-1, 0-0) but could find itself struggling to cover the spread against a formidable MAC opponent, especially if quarterback Jonathan Crompton continues to struggle.
Crompton, who has thrown five interceptions and no touchdowns the past two weeks, will meet an opportunistic Ohio secondary that has returned interceptions for touchdowns each of the past two weeks, against North Texas and Cal Poly.
Their ability to create turnovers is one of the Bobcats' strong points. Through three games, they have forced 11 turnovers, including interceptions of Connecticut quarterback Zach Frazier three times in the season opener.
Despite the turnovers, Ohio fell to UConn, 23-16. But the Huskies nearly sprang an upset the following week against No. 19 North Carolina, losing 12-10.
Since then, the Bobcats have put together back-to-back wins: A 31-30 double-overtime squeaker at North Texas and a 28-10 win over FCS opponent Cal Poly. The Mustangs were ranked No. 12 in the FCS media poll heading into Saturday's contest in Athens, Ohio.
Theo Scott has solidly progressed as the Bobcats' quarterback, completing 14 of 27 passes last week for 236 yards and three scores. On the season, Scott is 28-of-56 for 397 yards and six scores.
Ohio's most glaring weakness may be its rushing attack. Ranked 95th nationally, the Bobcats rushed for just 63 yards and 61 yards against UConn and North Texas, respectively, before reeling off 186 yards against Cal Poly. Ohio has not scored a rushing touchdown this season.
When the Bobcats do run, they usually turn to Chris Garrett (5'8", 185 pounds). The senior tailback has solidified himself as the starter, with 169 yards on 41 carries.
Scott's favorite target is easily senior wide receiver Taylor Price (6'1", 212). Price has 17 catches for 247 yards and three scores. No other Ohio receiver has more than six catches.
Another weakness for Ohio may be the kicking game. Redshirt freshman Matt Weller made his first four field goal attempts of the season, but he missed all three attempts last week, including one from 26 yards.
Defensively, Ohio was vulnerable to Cal Poly's triple-option attack last week, giving up 239 yards on the ground. The Mustangs were led by fullback Jordan Yocum, who rushed for 130 yards, all of it between the tackles.
But Ohio, which is ranked No. 70 in the Sagarin Rankings, is no Western Kentucky (which the Vols defeated 63-7 in the season opener). Last season, the Bobcats led Ohio State 14-13 in the fourth quarter before the Buckeyes scored two late touchdowns to save face.
"They seem to be much improved from last year, and if there is anyone on our team that is thinking about overlooking them, there is no way that they should," Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin said Wednesday. "We remind them that these guys had Ohio State on the ropes. They were ahead of Ohio State in the fourth quarter at Ohio State last year."
Kiffin knows his team can ill-afford a repeat of its disappointing home loss to UCLA two weeks ago, when the Bruins stunned the Vols, 19-15, in front of a mostly partisan crowd of 102,000.
"We don't like the way we played the last time we were at home," Kiffin said. "We are looking forward to an exciting crowd again. This is our first night game together, so I know the environment will be great."
Despite early successes, Ohio limps into Saturday's game at Neyland Stadium.
Quarterback Boo Jackson is out for the season after aggravating a shoulder injury at North Texas. Jackson had been splitting time with Scott. Last year, Jackson took over when Scott suffered a broken collarbone and helped Ohio nearly spring an upset of Ohio State. He finished the season with single-season school records for touchdown passes (19) and total yards (2,688).
Senior free safety Steven Jackson is questionable for Saturday's game, with an injured groin that may require surgery. Jackson had a crucial interception return for a touchdown at North Texas.
Offensive guard John Flowers, who started Ohio's first two games, is also questionable.