This weekend, the Tennessee Volunteers head west to take on Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners. When you read that sentence on paper, it already feels like an incredibly exciting matchup betewen storied programs. Tennessee is an incredibly young program that many people think is on its way out of a losing trend that Vols fans have grown accustomed to, while Oklahoma is a team many predict could wind up in this year’s College Football Playoff. Despite an upward trending program, Tennessee has struggled recently against top five teams. Oklahoma will be the seventh top five team that Tennessee has taken on in the last four years.
The last six games were not pretty:
- 2011 vs #1 LSU: Down 17-7 at halftime, lost 38-7
- 2011 at #2 Alabama: Tied 6-6 at halftime, lost 37-6
- 2012 at #5 Georgia: Tied 30-30 at halftime, lost 51-44
- 2012 vs #1 Alabama: Down 23-10 at halftime, lost 44-13
- 2013 at #2 Oregon: Down 38-7 at halftime, lost 59-14
- 2013 at #1 Alabama: Down 35-0 at halftime, lost 45-10
Of course, the phrase “any given sunday” applies, and this game could very well be different, but there are a few more things holding the Volunteers back.
1. Youth. Tennessee is one of the younger teams not only in the SEC, but also the country. In big games, it tends to be the older leadership of teams that guides the younger players towards success. For the Volunteers, this will be tough as most of their team lacks the requisite experience to provide that presence. Coach Butch Jones and his staff will need to do an exceptional job play calling to push his young team to a victory here.
2. Home field advantage. Since the beginning of Stoops’ tenure in Norman, the Sooners are 88-5 at home, 37-2 against non-conference teams. Though Oklahoma doesn’t play in the SEC, the competition has still been fierce, and an 88-5 record is very impressive.
3. The trenches. Tennessee has a rejuvenated offensive line this season, which is infinitely valuable in the ever daunting SEC. However, Oklahoma is expected to pick apart any offensive line, not just Tennessee’s. The Oklahoma front seven is fast and very strong. The Sooners are returning five starters on defense from last year, including 80% of their tackles for loss and 79% of their sacks. If Tennessee’s offensive line doesn’t play its best game of the season, it will be a long day in Norman for Tennessee and quarterback Justin Worley.
A big win against a top five opponent before conference play even begins would be huge for the Volunteers. Unfortunately for them, there are too many question marks that I think will hold them back, and Oklahoma’s powerful offense, led by a potent run game and plenty of weapons is likely to light up the scoreboard. I don’t see Tennessee building a rhythm, and Oklahoma shouldn’t have an issue putting up points.
Prediction: Oklahoma 42 Tennessee 10
*Section Photo credit to Don McPeak, USA Today Sports; Featured Photo (above) credit to Crystal LoGiudice, USA Today Sports