Game Time: Thursday, September 1, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Watch Online: WatchESPN
Odds: Tennessee (-23), -1400 (Tennessee Moneyline) +800 (App. State Moneyline), 60.5 (O/U)
A team garnering lots of preseason hype with a lofty preseason ranking to boot is hosting Appalachian State. Sound familiar?
Okay, Volunteer fans. Now that I have your attention: Before you put your pitchforks up, relax. No suggestion is being made that Tennessee will pull what Michigan did back in the year 2007. Such a thing would be outrageous to say.
Speaking of 2007, that’s the last time that Tennessee participated in the SEC Championship Game. All signs seem to be pointing toward the Vols making the trip down I-40 and I-75 to Atlanta this December if their play can match the expectations set out for Butch Jones’ 2016 squad. Armed with Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd on offense and a defense that should see many head to the NFL next year including Derek Barnett, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton, the Volunteers are the pick to win the SEC East by many a pundit, and now it’s time to see if they can be in tune with the prospects that have been forged for them.
A Pavilion for Dobbs
As our own Julian Council noted a few days ago, Volunteers quarterback Joshua Dobbs is on the cusp of cementing his legacy at Tennessee one way or another. However, to parrot off what Council noted, it may also play into what his coaches allow him to do on the field.
2016 as we’ve stated over and over again this offseason is a big season for Butch Jones and Tennessee, along with their leader Joshua Dobbs. I don’t doubt for a second the abilities of Dobbs in leading this offense. I only hope that Jones and OC DeBord share the same confidence in his talents as I do.
More of that was brought into discussion by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly in his 2016 Tennessee preview article:
The offense takes its foot off the gas at the earliest opportunity. Veteran coordinator Mike DeBord proved solid at game plans and early success. The Vols averaged 6.3 yards per play in the first quarter, with a 65 percent completion rate and 5.5 yards per rush. After the first quarter: 5.3 yards per play, a 57 percent completion rate, 4.4 yards per carry. Predictability beset the play-calling, which put a lot of pressure on the defense.
When it comes down to it, much of what Tennessee’s successes (or lack thereof) will come down to how little or how much conservatism is maneuvered in. Inputting trust in the senior signal caller will prove vital for UT to win ball games. That’s not hard-hitting analysis, but it’s just a simple truth.
Dobbs will likely have the opportunity to let it rip with him under center, Jalen Hurd behind him, and the likes of Josh Malone, Josh Smith and tight ends Ethan Wolf and Jason Croom around him. Jauan Jennings and Preston Williams, both sophomores, will likely get more opportunities this year as well with the likes of Von Pearson, Pig Howard and Marquez North having departed town.
Whether Dobbs is granted that opportunity is left to be seen. This game against Appalachian State allows for the Volunteers to see how their offense can play against an opponent that is likely to not be up to snuff. All we can do is wait and see.
Bob Shoop walks into Knoxville as the Volunteers’ new defensive coordinator, and after two pretty successful years at Penn State, he now will be guiding a terrific defensive unit that was especially great on passing downs last year. Their S&P+ rank for passing downs was 14th in the country with a Success Rate rank of 17th.
Week 1 Coverage
Week 1 Coverage
With them hovering between 30-41 overall, against the rush and against the pass in general, it gives credence to thinking that big things are on the way with experience and an upgrade at defensive coordinator.
Shoop and the Vols defense will certainly be tested on the first night of the season but if Shoop’s successes in the past and the talent on the defense is any indication, they could very well pass it if they make upward progressions.
An Early Test Against the Run
That aforementioned defense will however be tested early against the Appalachian State run game. The Mountaineers unit was one that was very successful a season ago. The Mountaineers were sixth in the country in yards per game, 31st in S&P+, and were 61st in Success Rate.
Marcus Cox, who rushed for 1,423 yards and nine touchdowns on a YPC of 5.9 is back for his senior season and he’s complemented by sophomore tailback Jalin Moore who amassed 731 yards on 99 carries a year ago, churning out a YPC of 7.4 (!).
The Mountaineers offensive line is without Jesse Chapman and Davante Harris, both of whom made 13 starts and were All-Sun Belt selections in 2015, but still return a good chunk of the line that paved the way for Cox, Moore and others.
So, what happens?
I sense that Tennessee will make an impact with the spotlight shining on them. It isn’t a marquee matchup by any means, but all that pressure pinned on their shoulders should likely give way towards a showcase and not a shocking upset. Stranger things have happened - consider the opposition - but methinks optimism will be running through Knoxville after Thursday night. At least for another week.
Prediction: Tennessee 31, Appalachian State 14