Game of the Week: Oklahoma vs. Tennessee

As we enter Week 2 of the college football regular season, a lot of questions have been answered for every team. Now, the tests begin for four teams; however, since No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 5 Michigan State is getting all the attention that a top 10 match-up should receive, I decided to go with an underrated rematch from last year where the No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers play host to the No. 19 Oklahoma Sooners in Knoxville, Tenn. as our Campus Sports Net Game of the Week.

Last season, Oklahoma hosted the Volunteers in Norman where the Sooners won, 34-10. For Tennessee, the score does not show how close the game really was. The Sooners only led 16-7 at halftime, but got the ball back to start the second half, scoring in six plays on their opening possession to go up 23-7.

Oklahoma gained 21 first downs, only three more than the Vols. The difference in the game was at the line of scrimmage where the Sooners were able to pressure Tennessee’s quarterback and sack him five times.

The Vol’s only got to the Sooners’ quarterback once.

This year, both units are led by different quarterbacks in 2015. For the Sooners, Baker Mayfield, a sophomore transfer from Texas Tech, and for the Volunteers, junior Joshua Dobbs. Oklahoma returned 13 starters this season, while Tennessee returned 18 starters.

Head coach Bob Stoops and his Oklahoma Sooners make their first trip Knoxville in program history on Saturday. The Sooners are ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press poll with a 1-0 record. Stoops and his Sooners look to bounce back from an 8-5 season a year ago that ended with a brutal loss from Clemson 40-6. Last year was a season fueled with high expectations after starting the 2014 campaign ranked No. 4 in the preseason. Some believe Stoops is on the “hot-seat,” but just how much can they improve?

Last week, Oklahoma handily beat Akron 41-3. The defense played lights out, only allowing 226 total yards, 88 through the air and 134 on the ground. Three points is the lowest amount of points allowed since their home opener against Louisiana-Monroe when they forced a shutout. The defense also forced one turnover and recorded one sack. Senior linebacker Dominique Alexander led the defense with 10 total tackles, two of them for losses.

On offense, the Sooners torched Akron’s defense through the air as Mayfield passed for 388 yards and three touchdowns. Mayfield also scored a touchdown on the ground, along with sophomore running back Samaje Perine, who rushed for 33 yards and a score on 11 carries.

As a team, Oklahoma finished with 539 total yards with only 100 yards rushing. Former starter Trevor Knight came in late and threw for 51 yards and an interception. The offense gave up two turnovers including Knight’s interception. As the clear-cut number one, Mayfield will get his first real road test against the Vols.

Oklahoma comes into this matchup with a winning streak of five straight non-conference away games. They are 14-3 since 1998 in road openers.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones enters his third season with high expectations.

The Vols look to build on the momentum of getting two top 10 recruiting classes from the last two seasons and contend for an SEC East title after finishing last season with a 7-6 record. Can Jones take his young Volunteers and finally get over the hump to contend for the SEC?

This week, Tennessee comes into their meeting with the Sooners ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll, two spots higher than their ranking to start the season last week. The Volunteers beat a high-powered offense in Bowling Green last Saturday by a score of 59-30. While the defense seemed to struggle a little bit, Tennessee’s offense, led by Dobbs, scored the most points in over four years for the Vols.

As the team finished with 604 total yards, Dobbs had 205 passing yards, 89 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. The Volunteers rushed as a team for 399 yards and six touchdowns as sophomore Jalen Hurd rushed for 123 and 3 touchdowns and sophomore Alvin Kamara rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Hurd averaged 5.3 yards per carry while Kamara averaged 9.6.

The Volunteer defense struggled defending Bowling Green’s passing attack allowing 433 yards.

On the bright side, the defense held the Falcons to 124 yards rushing, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry and forced a turnover. The Volunteers’ Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a junior linebacker, led the defense with 9 tackles, two tackles for a loss and one of the three sacks recorded by the team.

While Jones and his young Vols look to pull the upset against the Sooners Saturday night, history is not on Jones’ side. In the last two years, Tennessee is only 1-11 against ranked opponents.

Keys to the Game

Tennessee’s Secondary

After allowing 433 passing yards against Bowling Green, the Volunteers’ defensive backs must have a chip on their shoulder to improve. If Oklahoma is allowed to throw the football without any trouble, Tennessee may find itself in a lot of trouble.

Quarterback Play

For both teams, consistency at the quarterback position is important in this game. Oklahoma’s Mayfield is coming off a great first game as a Sooner and will look to continue to build on that performance, continuing to play mistake-free football. Tennessee’s Dobbs looks to do the same as he is coming off of a big performance in his first outing this season.

The difference in the game will be the quarterback with the least mistakes and with Dobbs having the crowd behind him and more experience than Mayfield, I slightly give the edge to Dobbs have the better night, even with Tennessee’s suspect secondary.

Oklahoma’s Running Game

The final key to the game is Oklahoma’s ability to run the football. Last week against Akron the Sooners only rushed for a total 100 yards. Perine needs to be given the ball at least 20 times in order to establish a balance in the offense. While Oklahoma did not have to run the football against Akron, they will need to against a much better defense in Tennessee.

Last year, Perine broke the all-time record single game rushing yards with 427 yards a week after Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon broke the record. Perine also racked up five touchdowns in the game.

Although he is not one of my players to watch, his production is going to be very important against the Vols.

Players to Watch

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma Sophomore Quarterback

Mayfield will have a big game against the Vols if they can establish a balanced offensive attack, as mentioned in Keys to the Game. With the help of Perine and the offensive weapons around him, Mayfield is capable of having a monster day against a secondary that has shown to be inconsistent.

If Mayfield and the Sooners can take the hostile crowd out of the game early, Oklahoma could enjoy their first trip to Knoxville.

Tennessee Defensive Front Seven

Rather than choosing an individual player to watch, keep your eyes on the defensive front for the Vols. Led by Reeves-Maybin, sophomore Derek Barnett and true freshman Kahlil McKenzie, the front seven will look to get after the quarterback and pressure him into making bad decisions. Last week, the defense accounted for three sacks against Bowling Green. Forced pressure and the ability to slow down the run game will help alleviate Tennessee’s questionable secondary, which may lead to costly turnovers for the Sooners.

Final Prediction

Right now there is no favorite out in Vegas, so your guess is as good as mine.

Look for the team with the least mistakes to get the win. Although I like Oklahoma’s secondary more than Tennessee’s secondary, I expect both units to struggle as this game will become a bit of a shootout down the stretch.

Having home-field advantage in Neyland Stadium has been proven to be vital for the Vols in the past. They’ve won 20 home openers in a row and that is why they will extend the streak to 21 as late turnovers will cost the Sooners on Saturday.

Tennessee 38-34

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*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports