Beat to Beat: Two Top 25 teams at Neyland

To get answers on what Tennessee fans can expect when the No. 19 Oklahoma Sooners get to town, InsideTennessee reached out to Norman.

For the first time ever in Knoxville and the fourth time overall, storied programs Oklahoma and Tennessee square off.

The No. 23 Volunteers hope to get their 10th victory over one of the 10 current members of the Big 12 and take down the Sooners for the first time since 1939.

Oklahoma, ranked No. 19, marks the first Top 25 foe the Big Orange will open up with since Tennessee trounced No. 9 California in 2006.

To find out more about the Sooners, we reached out to Sooners Illustrated publisher Bob Przybylo.

1. Where has Oklahoma improved from 2014? Where does it need to improve?

A rarity happened with Bob Stoops basically admitting what he was doing wasn’t working. Four first-year coaches are now in Norman, and you really cannot compare this year’s team to last year because it’s so different.

The offensive system change is a major one, obviously, going from a ground-and-pound to a more passing oriented “Air Raid” attack, but it’s not the only one.

The communication in the secondary was woeful last year, almost beyond embarrassing. Bringing in Kerry Cooks from Notre Dame has been huge for the Sooners, but we’re going to find out just how many strides have been made with a game like Saturday.

Heading into this game, OU actually has to improve its rushing attack. The Sooners couldn’t get Samaje Perine going at all against Akron, and OU will not win this game if Perine cannot average more than three yards per carry.

2. Just how many coaching changes took place and how have they been received?

Some were expected. Others were surprising. Lincoln Riley came as offensive coordinator, while Kerry Cooks is now in control of the secondary.

The unexpected change was former co-defensive coordinator Jerry Montgomery leaving for the Green Bay Packers. Nobody saw that coming. Diron Reynolds is now the man in charge there, and he brings more than a decade’s worth of NFL experience.

Reynolds had the defensive line a lot more active than in years past and had a fantastic debut. What has happened more than anything is the depth is there at defensive line, and Reynolds is bringing out the best in them.

Another major change was bringing Dennis Simmons from Washington State to be the outside receivers coach. OU’s talent at receiver has been sorely lacking the last couple of years, and Simmons is making an immediate impact.

OU will rotate 6-8 receivers Saturday, something it absolutely never would have thought about doing last year. We’ll see if it works.

3. How often will Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine be in the game at the same time?

This seems to be the ace in the hole for OU. Although the Sooners have a lot of talented receivers, it should felt like OU was running best when Mixon and Perine were there at the same time.

Perine is your traditional running back, wants to run downhill. Mixon is a change of pace but also has power. He can get out on the edge, and he can be a receiver.

No play illustrated that more than Mixon’s 76-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. The only reason that happened was because Perine delivered a major block to give quarterback Baker Mayfield the time to find Mixon free down the sideline.

4. A soldout Neyland Stadium tends to be one of the better Southeastern Conference atmospheres year-in, year-out. Are Oklahoma players concerned at all about a rowdy 102,455?

It’s interesting. For the most part, going to say no. Guys like Eric Striker, Sterling Shepard, Charles Tapper, Zack Sanchez, team captains, they’ve been in games like this and won’t be affected by it.

Can we say the same thing about those younger guys? No idea. Guys like offensive linemen Orlando Brown, Dru Samia, Jonathan Alvarez — no way of knowing how they respond to the atmosphere.

That’s the thing about OU right now. It feels like it either has a major leader or a major fresh face at its positions. Guys who have been there before or guys who have no idea what to expect.

5. Do Sooners coaches and players look at the Tennessee matchup as any type of a measuring stick or view the Vols as a challenge after an 8-5 season that didn't go as expected?

This game is huge for OU in terms of learning if all the changes the Sooners made following the disastrous 2014 season were the right ones.

There wasn’t much of anything to learn from OU’s first game against Akron. Essentially, the Sooners did exactly what they were supposed to do in a game like that.

This is where we learn if OU is a relevant national title contender or still trying to figure out how to get back to that point. OU’s schedule shapes up nicely where a win here and a lot of fans are going to be thinking 9-0 heading into the final three games at Baylor, vs. TCU and at Oklahoma State.

But the possibility of 9-0 cannot happen without a strong outing Saturday in Knoxville.

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