Know Your Opponent: Tennessee

Danny Parker of the Tennessee Scout.com website "Inside Tennessee" gives us some insight to the 2014 Volunteers. Here are some questions the Spirit asked Danny along with his answers.

If you were Ole Miss, what would be your biggest concern with Tennessee?

* Parker: With six freshmen and five sophomores in the starting lineup, it's important for Ole Miss to start putting the Volunteers on their back early. Tennessee was able to hop out on Georgia 10-0 in the first quarter and if not for a fumble in its own end zone that handed the Bulldogs seven points in the fourth quarter, the Vols likely get the upset in Athens. If the Rebels put a double-digit lead up on such a young squad, especially early, things could get out of hand quickly in the second half.

What are the Vols' strengths on offense and defense?

* Parker: Offensively, it's at the skill positions, even though two contributing receivers have been slowed by ankle sprains and Florida showed a physical brand of football can keep those pass-catchers from running wild. Marquez North was a freshman All-American a year ago and creates matchup issues with his size out wide. On defense, freshman end Derek Barnett will be freshman All-SEC and has a relentless motor. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton, both sophomores, have taken the next step this season and have made several "splash" plays. A.J. Johnson should be a Butkus Award finalist and the fourth-year starter is flying to the football better in 2014 than at any point the previous three seasons. If Rebels blockers can get to him on the second level, Bo Wallace and his backs could find room to run.

What are Tennessee's keys to winning?

* Parker: Same as they would be for any team on the road really. Score points early and often, stave off home-team momentum, take out the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd and protect the quarterback. The entirely rebuilt Tennessee offensive line has contributed to 23 sacks allowed, which has Big Orange Country up in arms as Tennessee is a program that carried a rich tradition of linemen for decades. Four of five O-line starters from the 2013 team are on NFL rosters. The 2012 and 2013 Tennessee teams allowed 23 sacks combined. In their 3-3 start to 2014, the Vols have given up 23 sacks.

Discuss the job UT head coach Butch Jones has done and where you see this program in five years.

* Parker: Between in-game management and recruiting, Tennessee finally seems to have found the right man to replace Hall of Fame coach Phillip Fulmer. Vols fans have endured seeing their beloved Orange & White drop 41 games in six seasons, which is arguably the worst stretch in the first 117 seasons of the program's existence. Jones already has a signature win by defeating then No. 9 South Carolina a year ago. He and his staff went out and signed Scout's No. 4 ranked recruiting class in the nation (counting 25 of the 32 signees) and the 2015 class presently ranks in the Scout top 10. It's a roster with few senior contributors going through a facelift. Thus, a mere bowl appearance this winter would be a step forward. It will likely take winning 3 of 4 versus Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt to get to 6-6. The 10-9 loss to a Florida team experiencing its own struggles caused numerous Vols fans to jump off the bandwagon. An upset anywhere down the stretch and postseason appearance could get some Tennessee faithful back on board.

How will the young Tennessee offensive line be able to handle the Ole Miss defensive line?

* Parker: In all honesty, unless the Tennessee staff uses alignments like those used by the Oakland Raiders or Stanford Cardinal with six offensive linemen instead of five, it can't. It's considered the worst unit in orange this century. Players like Issac Gross, Robert Nkemdiche and Channing Ward shouldn't have any issues winning one-on-one matchups. Communication was a major issue in the 24-point loss at Oklahoma. As another sign of how bad it is, Jacob Gilliam, who just went on scholarship in May as a fifth-year senior, tore an ACL in the first half of the season opener. Gilliam has postponed surgery to repair the torn ligament and Vols fans are hoping he can play at least some left tackle to get Kyler Kerbyson to his more natural position of either right guard or right tackle.

The Ole Miss Spirit's Chuck Rounsaville also answered some of Parker's questions concerning the Ole Miss Rebels.

It seems like one of the Southeastern Conference's most complete teams. So, how do you beat Ole Miss? Is there any weakness?

* Rounsaville: There doesn’t appear to be glaring weaknesses, but it did take three or four games for the offensive line to come around enough to somewhat neutralize opposing defensive fronts. Like Tennessee’s OL, the Rebels have a “new” starter at center in Ben Still, a new right tackle in JUCO Fahn Cooper and a left guard, Aaron Morris, who is returning after a season-ending knee injury a year ago. The chemistry on the Ole Miss offensive line is still developing and while they have gotten better, there are still openings for defensive coordinators to exploit in that area. Also, the field goal/PAT kicking, now being handled by a true freshman in Gary Wunderlich, has been shaky to this point.

After impressive wins over Alabama and Texas A&M with a trip to LSU and a home date with Auburn in consecutive weeks directly after, is the Tennessee showdown a "trap game?"

* Rounsaville: The feeling around the Rebel camp is that it doesn’t qualify for that label because they feel UT, while young, is a dangerous opponent ready to put things together at any moment and capable of beating anyone on any Saturday. UT will not take Ole Miss by surprise or catch Ole Miss with their guard down. They will not be looking ahead to LSU, Auburn or anyone else. Their creed of “win the day” and one day at a time attitude has kept them focused on the moment and has served them well. UT is capable of defeating Ole Miss and they know it, so there will be no “trap.”

From Robert Nkemdiche to Senquez Golson to Cody Prewitt, the Rebels appear to have first-team All-SEC talent on the front and back end of the defense. How does this "D" compare to best all-time in Oxford?

* Rounsaville: The Ole Miss defense of 2014 could end up going down in the annals as one of the Rebels’ finest ever, but it will be hard to beat the 1959 defense that only allowed 21 points the whole year or the 1962 stoppers that allowed just 40 points all season or 1963 that gave up just 33 points in an entire campaign. Considering, however, the advancement in offensive football in the modern era, the 2014 defense rivals any at Ole Miss in recent history and might just be the best seen here since those teams of 50-odd years ago. They are certainly making an early case for “best ever,” but there is still a lot of football left to play.

Tennessee sophomore Cameron Sutton is one of the team's better players, but he could have his hands full when matched up with Laquon Treadwell. How does Treadwell compare to the best receivers in school history?

* Rounsaville: Treadwell is as talented as any receiver the Rebels have ever had, but he earns that status in different ways. Laquon not only possesses excellent receiving skills, he is an outstanding blocker. He does all the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Laquon draws double teams or shade coverages that opens up the rest of the receivers to man coverage, which is also valuable. He’s not much of a “home run” threat, but he’s very good at getting yardage after the catch due to his strength and his strength also enables him to catch the ball in traffic. Where he will go down in the annals of Ole Miss football remains to be seen, but nobody on the Ole Miss staff would trade him for any receiver in the country.


OM Spirit Top Stories