Analyzing the trench matchup on both sides of the football between No. 3 Ole Miss and Tennessee and a premier showdown between a top cornerback and elite wide receiver are just two of many topics Scout network employees covered in a look ahead Saturday's contest in Oxford.
Take a deeper look at the matchup as OM Spirit publisher Chuck Rounsaville posed key questions for InsideTennessee managing editor Danny Parker.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 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.
4. Discuss the job 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.
5. 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 Isaac 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.