KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop knows how fired up Appalachian State will be coming into Neyland Stadium Thursday night, its sights set on an upset.
“I draw on my (Division) 1-AA experience when I was at William & Mary, and we beat Virginia by two touchdowns (2009) and played North Carolina and North Carolina State to the final series,” Shoop said.
“I’ve been that guy in the locker room saying, ‘these guys didn’t recruit you, let’s go get them!’ “ he said. “You look at last year with the American Conference, Memphis beat Ole Miss, Houston beat Florida State and Temple beat us (Penn State), so these are good games.”
Shoop’s units at Penn State and Vanderbilt finished in the nation’s top 25 the past five years, including a Commodores’ defense that picked off three passes in a 14-10 win over Tennessee in Neyland Stadium in 2013.
The Vols were a 17 1/2-point favorite that day — and they are a 21-point favorite over the preseason Sun Belt Conference favorite Mountaineers in Thursday night’s game (TV: 7:30 p.m., SEC Network).
Shoop said Tennessee has prepared its defensive linemen for the sort of cut-blocking they will see from Appalachian State, and his formula of stopping the run first and preventing big plays is in full effect.
“We had 99 drives last year where we didn’t give up a run of 12 or more yards or a pass of 15 or more yards,” Shoop said. “Teams only scored twice on those drives.”
The Mountaineers ranked sixth in the nation in rushing last season, averaging 271.5 yards per game.
Shoop said Appalachian State has “three great backs,” with senior Marcus Cox coming off three consecutive 1,000-yard plus rushing seasons, including a 103-yard performance against Clemson last season.
“I can assure you of this,” Shoop said, “Appalachian State has captured our attention.”
The Mountaineers have won 17 of their past 19 games and six consecutive contests away from their home stadium.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.