Game day primer: What you need to know ahead of Tennessee-Western Carolina
It’s Week 3 and Tennessee needs to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma. The Vols will host Western Carolina on Saturday at Neyland Stadium. Here’s what you need to know about Tennessee’s upcoming matchup.
Western Carolina at Tennessee, Saturday 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Weather: 80 degrees, zero percent chance of rain
Line: No line.
Numbers to know:
* Jalen Hurd is fifth among SEC backs with 232 rushing yards. He’s also averaging 4.9 yards per carry. This doesn’t bode well for a Western Carolina team that allowed 341 rushing yards against the Citadel in Week 2.
* Only two Tennessee players have recorded more than 100 yards receiving in a game since 2013, according to Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Pig Howard had 109 yards against South Carolina last season and Marquez North recorded 102 versus the Gamecocks one year earlier.
* Tennessee only converted six times on third down in Week 2.
* Tennessee’s offensive line has already allowed four sacks, which ties four other teams as the second-highest in the SEC. The Vols have also allowed 13 tackles for loss, which ranks 10th-worst in the conference.
* Tennessee is 6-0 all-time against FCS opponents. The Vols’ defeated Chattanooga 45-10 in 2014.
Storylines to watch:
* Can Vols play aggressive offense?: Everything seemed to go Tennessee’s way during the first quarter of last week’s game. Then Butch Jones called a game so conservative it was scheduled to appear in this week’s Republican debate. Oklahoma managed to regain momentum in the second half while — aside from overtime — Tennessee played “not to lose.” Sure, being ahead against a top-25 opponent has been unfamiliar territory in recent years, but it’s no excuse to play passively. The offense must take more chances and establish itself as a threat.
* Tennessee defense without Curt Maggitt: We know that Curt Maggitt is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks after he chipped a bone in his hip in Week 2. The Vols are now without their senior leader and one of their top pass rushers. Maggitt handles both roles while playing both defensive end and outside linebacker in various formations. So where does that leave Tennessee’s defense? Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Kyle Phillips — who has been slowed by injuries through his first two games — should both see larger roles in Week 3. Reeves-Maybin is now Tennessee’s most experienced linebacker while Phillips is a blue-chip prospect.
* How will Vols rally from heartbreaking loss?
Look, last week’s loss was a bitter pill for Vols fans to swallow. It seemed like Tennessee was finally a legitimate contender — at least during the first half — before collapsing late in the game. But it’s not time to dwell on mistakes, but rather focus on the task at hand. Western Carolina should be an easy matchup for any SEC team, especially one with high expectations. The Vols need to prove that they can bounce back from a tough loss and regain their confidence before kicking off their conference schedule next week.
My prediction: Tennessee 42, Western Carolina 10
Jason’s season picks record: 0-0.