Where have you seen the biggest improvement with Joshua Dobbs from this year?
Accuracy, efficiency, ownership of a leadership position, pocket presence and running tempo. Some tend to forget that the Tennessee staff attempted to redshirt Dobbs each of the last two seasons but was forced to put him into duty in late October both years after injuries to the starting quarterback Justin Worley.
Having the starting job from last October until now has had a lasting effect on Dobbs, who has embraced his role and is one of the faces of the program. Learning under now Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Mike Bajakian and first-year Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord has Dobbs throwing a more accurate football, exercising patience and getting the offense into gear.
Is this finally Butch Jones' team? Or is he still trying to adjust to what he had when he first arrived on campus?
It's Butch Jones' team. A mine field was placed around the roster he and his staff inherited and in its place are players with SEC ability. Jones has gone on record being extremely grateful to the upperclassmen that bought in his first two years on Rocky Top before graduating and moving on. They have their place in his heart regardless of their role as Vols.
But, the staff has signed back-to-back Scout top 5 recruiting classes and they make up a majority of the two-deep. Having said that, Tennessee has one of the youngest rosters in the country and it will be tough to reach fans' expectations with so much green on the field.
Who is a player on the verge of a breakout performance?
Kahlil McKenzie or Shy Tuttle. The suspension to starting to defensive tackle Danny O'Brien will have one, if not both, rotating into the game with redshirt sophomore Kendal Vickers and senior Owen Williams. Tuttle is ahead of McKenzie as Tuttle enrolled in January while McKenzie arrived in the summer and was slowed in camp by an injury.
Both have extremely bright futures and it's just a matter of time before the switch flips. Both saw playing time in the season opening 29-point win over Bowling Green in Nashville.
How is Tennessee viewing this game? Is this a statement game? A chance to rise back up to national prominence or is it too early to say something like that?
It's both an enormous measuring stick and a chance to get ready to face a talent rich roster with the SEC slate getting underway with a trip to Gainesville two weeks later. Oklahoma undoubtedly has Tennessee's respect. The offseason was kind to the Vols in that they got momentum from bowl eligibility, a January win over Iowa and a preseason top 25 ranking. All that is good and fine but none of it means Tennessee is again part of the nation's elite.
A win over a team ranked several spots ahead of them would do quite a bit toward perception around the program that it's on the rise. A loss doesn't equal the end of the season but some would hop off the bandwagon. It's the most anticipated matchup at Neyland Stadium in several years and upper-deck tickets are near $200/apiece.
Vols' biggest concern heading into this showdown?
Slowing down Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense. The Vols gave up 433 yards passing to a MAC school a week ago and starting nickelback RaShaan Gaulden is out for the year. Starting senior safety LaDarrell McNeil had been thought to be lost for the season but time with neck experts in Texas gave McNeil a new lease on his football life, however, he won't return until the following week.
No Gaulden. No McNeil. Confidence cannot be high after last week. It's legit cause for concern every time Mayfield drops back to pass, even if he's simply dumping it off to Joe Mixon or Samaje Perine. In order to offset the lack of experience on the back end, the defensive line must get to Mayfield and disrupt throws if it cannot sack him.