Well another week is essentially in the book for Bearcat fans. Kickoff comes in round about 24 hours from now. The team has completed the journey down I-75 and is safely ensconced in a Knoxville area hotel. So as always here are the things that I am looking at in tomorrow's game.
The Offensive Line
I am not going to go through the whole routine of explaining why the Bearcats Offensive Line is better than you think it is. I have done that before and it didn't quite take. Tennessee has a lot of talent up front, but there isn't a whole lot of proven production. UC doesn't need to dominate the Tennessee D-Line for this offense to find success. It would be great sure, but a stalemate would enable Zach Collaros, and Isaiah Pead to do damage. That's the beauty of Zone Blocking schemes. A stalemate up front is enough to get Pead to the second level where he really does his damage.
Against Montana the Vols trotted out three brand new starters at linebacker in A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt and Austin Johnson, the first two are freshmen and Austin Johnson is a converted fullback. All three acquitted themselves fairly well against Montana, but that was Montana. When the Vols go with a nickle package, which will be fairly often against UC, the freshmen come off and Senior Daryl Vereen comes on as the Nickel Backer. With Travis Kelce getting healthy and solidifying what looks like a solid three man rotation at Tight End I expect to see quite a few two TE packages tomorrow to dictate personnel and keep those young bucks on the field for Tennessee. The starters did just fine against Montana. But the Grizzlies don't do much to prepare anyone for The Wonderman. AKA Isaiah Pead.
UC's Defensive Line V. Tennessee's Offensive Line
Truthfully, this is the only area where I think UC has a clear advantage over the Vols. UT started 5 brand new guys last season, and four of them were Freshmen. All of those guys are back this year. It seems the prevailing assumption among Vol fans is that this group is much improved this year. Derek Dooley disagrees. At least after the Montana game, and the stats back him up. It's very hard indeed to wash away 2.8 yards per carry. In a year, or maybe at the end of the year Tennessee's line will blossom into a productive and stable group. But they are neither right now and the Bearcats must capitalize on that. It isn't necessary for UC to pick up five sacks and a dozen TFL's to be effective. Pushing the pocket and bothering Tyler Bray should help out the secondary tremendously.
Tyler Bray's Comfort Level
Bray was sacked three times against Montana last Saturday but it had no real effect on his performance. 17 of 24, 294 yards and 3 TD's. Bray has the prototypical size at 6'6" 210, a massive arm ect. In many respects he reminds me of Tony Pike. Rail thin, funny gait, bad facial hair and a terrible tattoo. OK so Pike didn't have the terrible tattoo (that we are aware of). But the biggest thing that has jumped out at me is that his Footwork is well and truly terrible. Not on the initial drop mind you. His 3 and 5 step drops are pretty much textbook examples. But he doesn't move around in the pocket and when he is flushed he can't set up quickly to get rid of the ball with much accuracy at all. That was the thing with Pike. It never looked pretty when he got flushed and had to run around, but he always set up quickly and delivered a good ball. Bray doesn't have that knack. So it is far more important for the Defensive Line to collapse the pocket and get pressure, not so much to sack Bray, but to make him move. In Basketball defenders are taught to run three point shooters off the line on closeouts. The same principal applies here. UC has to prevent Bray from sitting in the pocket because he is lethal from there, and there are systemic holes in Tim Banks schemes that Bray is more than capable of exploiting.
This has nothing at all to do with the melodrama that surrounded KT's matriculation to Clifton. It is a simple matter of match ups. Tennessee's secondary wasn't great last season, and portends to be every bit as not great this year. The dismissal of Janzen Jackson basically torpedoed any margin of error that this Vols secondary would have had this year. The UT will trot out a converted WR and a true freshman starting his second ever game to combat KT and D.J. Woods. I would expect Marsalis Teague to be on D.J. Woods and for the Freshman Justin Coleman to be on KT the majority of the time. Did I mention that Coleman busted a coverage and allowed an 80 yards TD last week?