Position breakdown: Tennessee

Sooners, Volunteers match up in major non-conference showdown

The message was very clear from the defensive line. In fact, it was about as unanimous as possible.

Oklahoma doesn’t have to do anything special up front defensively when Saturday night’s game against Tennessee kicks off. All the Sooners have to do is play.

They definitely don’t have to try and trick Tennessee’s inexperienced offensive line.

“We just have to play physical,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said. “If we play physical, we can do anything we want to do.”

Tennessee will start a pair of freshman on the offensive line, including a true freshman at right guard. Phillips is the only Sooners’ defensive lineman that has fewer games played than the combined offensive front for the Volunteers.

The five up front has a combined 10 offensive starts and only one before this year. Phillips has four, Charles Tapper has 12 and Chuka Ndulue has started 19 games.

Oklahoma’s pass rush will be key to keeping talented Volunteers quarterback Justin Worley off balance and in a collapsing pocket.

“We have to be dominant up front,” Ndulue said. “It always starts with the defensive line when it comes to defense. If we’re getting drive five yards down the field, it’s gonna be a long day for everybody else.”

That is the key position battle this week. Here’s a look at how each team compares across the board:

Quarterback:Tennessee’s Justin Worley and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight are very similar: Two quarterbacks who have struggled in the past and are now playing at their best. Both have enjoy success against weaker opponents to start the season, but both are so very different: Knight is a dual threat guy, Worley is the ultimate pocket passer. I had picked Worley until Butch Jones said earlier today that Knight can “do it all.” Oklahoma it is.

Running backs: Keith Ford is proving the kind of ball carrier he will be for the next three years with every passing game. He might be the most complete back Oklahoma has had in quite a while. Did Adrian Peterson even catch the ball this well? Tennessee’s Marlin Lane is no slouch with a 4.9 ypc average. The Volunteers also have a burly 6-foot-3, 227-pound freshman behind him – Jalen Hurd. Ford’s supporting cast at Oklahoma is better and more proven though.

Wide receivers: Sterling Shepard will be the best of the bunch, but the Volunteers hold spots two and three behind him. Out on the perimeter is where Tennessee’s best athletes are. They’ll make plays Saturday.

Tight end:Volunteers’ freshman Ethan Wolf is full of potential and could be a game changer in a few years. Heck, he is one right now, but he’s hurt and Blake Bell is hitting his stride. Oklahoma has better depth at the position, too.

Offensive line: Too much experience for the Sooners; Too little for Tennessee. Oklahoma makes big waves and big holes.

Defensive line: The Sooners will dominate in the trenches. This is the biggest game most of the Tennessee players will have been in so far in their collegiate careers.Oklahoma will be comfortable, especially if the real Charles Tapper finally finds his way to the field.

Linebackers: Geneo Grissom development and the emergence of back-up Caleb Gastelum, who has proven he can play on this level. Although Gastelum will be tested Saturday, the linebackers Oklahoma has around him are very capable.

Secondary: Tennessee’s defensive backfield has been good. They’ve allowed just 167 yards per game through the first two contests and have picked off two passes. With Zack Sanchez at full health, Oklahoma’s secondary is just better.

Special teams: Michael Hunnicutt is closing on the Oklahoma career points record. His near guarantee, as well as Shepard and Ross returning, makes the Sooners better here.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories