This meeting finds Tennessee rated No. 4 after posting an 11-2 record last season. Wyoming is unranked after stumbling through an injury-plagued campaign, which saw the Cowboys finish 2-9. Head coach Vic Koenning has a 2-19 mark entering his third season at the helm. Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer is 95-20 embarking on his 10th complete season at his alma mater.
This contest features a pair of strong-armed quarterbacks named Casey who share more in common than a name and position. Tennessee¹s Casey Clausen is 6-4, 215. Wyoming's Casey Bramlett is 6-4, 205. Clausen¹s younger brother, Rick, is a redshirt freshman quarterback at LSU. Bramlett¹s younger brother, Corey, is a redshirt freshman quarterback at Wyoming. Clausen completed 227 passes in 2001 for 2,969 yards. Bramlett completed 225 passes in 2001 for 3,069 yards. Clausen enters the game without his leading receiver Kelley Washington. Bramlett enters the game without his leading rusher Derek Armah.
Even their differences have a similar ring. Clausen threw for 22 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while suffering only two defeats last season compared to Bramlett, who threw 9 touchdowns and 20 interceptions while leading his team to only two victories.
Wyoming is 0-7 the last two seasons in the pass-happy Big Sky Conference. Tennessee finished 7-2 in the SEC last season losing to LSU in the SEC title game 31-20.
Tennessee offense vs. Wyoming defense:
The Vols return five starters to a unit that produced 30.8 points per game and amassed 460 yards per contest. The Cowboys return six starters to a unit that surrendered 33.8 points and 464 yards per game. Tennessee's strength is it's offensive line, which is bolstered by the return of former starters Michael Muñoz at left tackle and Jason Respert at right guard. Tennessee also adds three high school all-Americans (Rob Smith, Brandon Jefferies and Cody Douglas) to reinforce a powerful front five.
This spells trouble for a Wyoming defense that is replacing most of its defensive front line. The Cowboys say they have made significant improvement up front and the return of injured tackle Brandon Cassavan, 6-5- 286, will be a boost. However Wyoming's other three starters in the trenches average out at 262 pounds which means they will be giving up about 40 pounds per player to the Vols big, deep, talented O-line.
That disadvantage along with last year's dismal rush defense, which gave up nearly 250 yards per game in a league noted for its passing, doesn't bode well for the Pokes.
That size difference will also show when Wyoming tries to pressure Clausen. Last year, the Cowboys had but 10 total sacks. Tennessee allowed 26 sacks, but only 7 the last five games, which included contests against Florida, LSU and Michigan.
Linebackers and the secondary are also question marks for Wyoming and each unit will be thoroughly challenged to match UT¹s speed and athleticism. The biggest problem will come in the depth department on what could be a humid August afternoon in the Nashville basin.
Expect Tennessee to take advantage of these conditions by pounding the ball between the tackles and establishing the play-action passing game. UT's young receiving corps is going to need to come of age with Washington out of action, and Wyoming is sure to try and capitalize by crowding the line of scrimmage in an effort to shutdown the running game and force the pass.
The Vols will likely counter by spreading the defense and forcing the linebackers to cover backs on swing passes and flare routes, while testing the middle zones with tight end Jason Witten.
Wyoming offense vs. Tennessee defense:
The strength of Wyoming's offense is an experienced quarterback and a talented receiving corps that averaged 282 yards per game last season to rank No. 15 nationally. Of course those numbers are somewhat skewed by success against second-string defenses inserted in one-sided games. The Pokes were outscored by 13 points per contest last season and by over 17 in seven conference games. Utah whipped Wyoming 35-0, UNLV won 47-26 and San Diego State scored a 38-16 victory.
The Cowboys have a couple of big bookend tackles in Adam Goldberg (6-7, 330) and Rob Kellerman (6-6, 305), but averaged under 100 yards a game last season on the ground (99.4). While Wyoming matches up more favorably across the line on offense, it might have big trouble containing Tennessee¹s speed. That was the problem it faced in Œ99 when the Vols recorded the 13 sacks. Last season the Cowboys allowed 31 sacks while Tennessee recorded 38.
The top priority for UT¹s stop troops will be to stonewall the run and the Vols are annually among the nation¹s leaders in this critical category. Last season they allowed only 85 yards per contest to rank No. 3 among 117 Division I teams. True Tennessee is replacing its entire defensive front, but the D-line has talent and the linebackers and secondary are better.
Tennessee's ability to swarm the ball and Wyoming's lack of a strong running game, which is diminished further by Armah¹s absence, means the Cowboys will find it tough to move the ball on the ground. Expect Wyoming to try to establish the pass first and mix in enough delays and draws (some off sprint action) to keep UT¹s defense honest. Misdirection is another tactic commonly deployed by opposing offenses to help neutralize the Vols speed on defense.
Tennessee will not allow Wyoming to dictate terms of engagement. John Chavis will attack the line of scrimmage to take away the running game and disrupt Wyoming¹s passing game via the blitz. Vols will use a lot of fresh troops to maintain their athletic edge.
Special teams: This area appears to be a toss-up in terms of field-goal kicking and punting. Wyoming senior J.D. Wallum hit 20-of-23 field goals last season and 17-of-18 extra points to finish as his team¹s leading scorer with 77 points. Tennessee senior Alex Walls connected on 15-of-20 placement kicks, and all 39 of his extra point attempts. Wyoming averaged 35.1 yards in net punting to rank No. 61 nationally, while Tennessee averaged 35.0 yards per game to rank No. 62.
Tennessee's team speed should give the Vols the advantage in coverage and returns.
Intangibles: Wyoming will come into the game believing it can win and the longer the Cowboys stay close the more their confidence should grow. The problem will be staying close to a Tennessee team that is bigger, faster, stronger, deeper and more talented. The home field adds to UT's advantage and the Vols will be aiming to make a good showing on national TV in their season opener.
Summary: First games often produce aberrations as teams adjust to the speed and climate of live competition. However Tennessee knows the consequences of looking past an opponent and it would be surprising if the Vols came out any way other than ready.
Conversely, Wyoming has only won three games in two years and don't yet know what is required to win against an average opponent much less a
formidable foe. The Cowboys should be an improved squad, but not one ready to challenge a national power like Tennessee.
Moreover, Wyoming doesn't match up well with the Vols and will be hard pressed to keep things close. The Cowboys best chance of winning is to have a big edge in turnovers and special teams. But they were a minus-five in the turnover ratio last season while Tennessee was a plus-five against much tougher competition.
Bottom-line: The Vols just have too many horses for the Cowboys to corral.
Prediction: Tennessee 45, Wyoming 9.