- OU presents big test for Vols
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Date: Monday, September 7 2015
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OU presents big test for Vols

With Bowling Green in its rear-view mirror, Tennessee has a few things to work on before its much-anticipated encounter with Oklahoma following UT's 59-30 win in Nashville.

Bowling Green torched the Vols for 433 yards through the air and remained a thorn in Tennessee's side until late in the third quarter, when the Vols finally unshackled themselves from the Falcons. BGSU turned in a 559-yard performance against the Vols.

Needless to say, the Tennessee defense is a concern, whether it wants to admit it or not, as Oklahoma comes to town. The Sooners' quarterback, Baker Mayfield, was 23-33 for 388 yards and three TDs in a somewhat pedestrian team effort against Akron, a 41-3 victory in Norman.
"Well, we need to get better in a hurry," said Tennessee coach Butch Jones. "We have a football team coming in here that's skilled. A very big, physical, imposing offensive line."

Even though the statistics didn't show it last Saturday, Jones maintains that Oklahoma runs the ball very well. The Sooners managed just 100 yards on the ground against Akron and the Vols allowed just 124 against Bowling Green.

The Sooners boast Samaje Perine, Alex Ross and Keith Ford. That troika is purported to be among the best group of running backs assembled in Norman in Stoops' 16-year tenure. That's big talk, considering this is a school that produced Adrian Peterson and a few others. Perine, Ross and Ford. Perine and Ross combined for 53 yards and Joe Mixon, another back OU is banking on, had 27 yards. Still, Jones isn't taking anything for granted.

"They have three running backs that I would argue would be as good as any three running backs in the country," Jones said. "Not a tandem, but they have three. They complement each other just like Jalen (Hurd) and Alvin (Kamara) do."

Still, pass defense is a concern. But Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson may be as good as any Tennessee will face this year.

" We need to get better in a hurry, but I think, with a naked eye, everyone wants to point towards the secondary," Jones said.

The coach asserted that pass defense starts with the pass rush, the linebackers and the secondary working hand-in-hand.

"We did not play well defensively at all in the game [against Bowling Green.] We had some individuals do some uncharacteristic things, but again, it gets back to that base line performance," the coach said. "Our players take pride in their performance. They understand that, and the great thing is, we can work to correct the problems this week."

Jones said communication was a problem for his defense Saturday.

"I thought as a defense in general we did not do a very good job communicating. We had too many mental errors and to play winning football you can't have the amount of mental errors that we had," said Jones. "Again, first game, going fast, a lot of things happening, but that's inexcusable. And we understand that as coaches, that's on us. Our players understand it as well."

The Vols showed proficiency running the football Saturday and really didn't exploit the vertical game. They didn't have to. Three rushers combined for 356 on the ground. Alvin Kamara made his UT debut with 144 yards; Jalen Hurd had 123 yards and quarterback Josh Dobbs had 89 net yards. Were it not for a 6-yard sack, Dobbs would have approached the century mark.

Part of that success could be attributed to the offensive line, which bore much of the pre-season scrutiny.

"I'm pleased with the line in terms of our production," Jones said. "There were some yards we left out there, but it was a very good start."

General Robert Neyland, legendary Tennessee football coach, stressed in his game maxims to press the kicking game because, "here's where the breaks are made."

Saturday against Bowling Green, Tennessee's special teams were key. The Vols blocked a field goal, returnee Cam Sutton had three returns for 102 yards. Punter Trevor Daniel punted three times for a 47.1-yard average, including a kick that landed inside the 20 and another that went 61 yards. Kicker Aaron Medley missed two field goals, one from 42 and another from 29, but connected on a 26-yard boot. He also had 10 kickoffs, half of which ended in touchbacks. Special teams helped make a difference Saturday.

"It was great. We spent so much time on special teams and obviously Cam does a great job with the ball in his hands, but also Cam would be the first to tell you that there's ten other individuals really working exceptionally hard and a lot of those ten individuals were youngsters playing for the first time," said the Tennessee coach. "Again, those were momentum. I thought the score at the end of the half was big. That was momentum for us: managing the clock, getting the return and then cashing in on the touchdown to Ethan Wolf. That was big for us going into half time."

Tennessee seeks a big signature win and beating Oklahoma, while not a conference game, could set a tone confidence-wise for this team. But Jones said in predictable coach's parlance that the Oklahoma game is important because it's the next one.

"It's the most important game because it's the next game, that's it. Every single game is critical. That's what makes college football special, is one bad day can take you away from all your dreams, goals, and aspirations," Jones said. "You just have to keep it in perspective. I think the biggest storyline is the quality of opponent. We're playing a great, great football team."

Win, lose or draw, Jones believes that the Oklahoma game will reveal a lot about his team's character and maturity. Jones says this is a top-five program, and it has been, historically, though OU hasn't been particularly relevant for more than a decade.

"We'll know a little bit more of where we're at after the game from a competitive standpoint, from a physical standpoint, from everything," Jones said. "I think it's great preparation when going into our conference play is we'll know a little bit more where we need to go."

Jim Steele is editor of and host of the sports talkshow The Pressbox, which airs Monday-Thursday, 4-6 p.m. CT on WRJB 95.9.

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