KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee needs to survive one more week before the season really gets underway.
At least, that seems to be what the Vols’ cumulative team temperament suggests.
How else to explain how 15th-ranked Tennessee (2-0) has sleep-walked through the first quarter of the past two games, at times painfully detached?
It took the fourth-string quarterback — Sheriiron Jones — to bring a level of excitement to the sidelines in a game with 156,990 fans on hand last Saturday.
This week’s opponent is a solid, well-coached team from the Mid-American conference.
The Vols are a 4-touchdown favorite over Ohio (1-1), and if they decided to show up in force, the Big Orange could win by five or six touchdowns.
But that hasn’t happened yet, and with a noon kickoff at Neyland Stadium (TV: SEC Network), it’s not likely to happen this weekend, either.
Here are five things about Tennessee’s final preseason game, against the Bobcats:
1. Replace “mike” on defense
Sophomore Darrin Kirkland Jr. has been at the brain center of the defense at the middle (mike) linebacker position during the Vols eight-game win streak, but he’ll be out this week and likely next with the high ankle sprain he suffered in the 45-24 win over Virginia Tech. Only Cam Sutton is more indispensable to the defense. Jalen Reeves-Maybin must step up.
2. Wake up the offense
It took Virginia Tech gift-wrapping a fumble at its own 5-yard line last week to jump-start the offense, and it wasn’t until Tuesday that Josh Dobbs revealed that Tennessee wasn’t expecting the defenses the Hokies were throwing at it the first 15 minutes. Dobbs needs to come out running to put Ohio on its heels and get this game out of reach quickly.
Oh, and the Vols probably shouldn’t count on the Bobcats fumbling the ball away five times or committing more than 100 yards in penalties.
3. Keep the offensive line rotating
It’s not time to settle on an offensive line quite yet based on how complacent the Tennessee starters played in the opener and at the start of the Virginia Tech game. It appears that rotating players keeps all hands on deck and sharp. Jack Jones is certainly worthy of playing time.
4. Don’t underestimate the Bobcats
Write it on the blackboard 100 times. “Fearless” Frank Solich has a pretty good team outside of his inexperienced secondary. They have some similarities to Appalachian State, and given some early momentum could be dangerous. Ohio had a 14-7 lead over Tennessee the last time it came to Neyland Stadium in 2009. If it takes a 14-7 lead this time, this one could get interesting.
5. Don’t let it get interesting
More than anything, Tennessee needs to play consistently and well enough for three quarters that it can build a big lead and pull the starters. Put the backups in, and see what Quinten Dormady can do at quarterback. Yes, really — it’s not a bad idea to have more than one quarterback with experience during the course of a championship season run.