What To Watch: Tennessee vs Austin Peay
Let’s be honest, outside of individual match-ups and the fact that it is Coach Butch Jones’ first game as the Vols headman, there isn’t a lot about this game against Austin Peay to get excited about. Regardless, there are a few things to watch out for in the season opener. In this piece I’ll take a look at some of the bigger things to watch out for when the Vols kick off against the Governors.
Offensively, the Vols have a ton of question marks as we all know but the Governors defense is not good, at all. Or at least they shouldn’t be. They are small along the defense line and very very short in height at corner back. So when watching the Vols offense, don’t necessarily watch the total domination that should take place, look for particulars. Look for how the offensive line blocks when AP loads the box with 8. Run blocking was middling last season and this is the first chance in a long time this unit has been able to go against someone outside of the Vols defense. If Tennessee cannot get good push regardless of the situation against AP’s small defense, then this will be a long season. There is no reason outside total number of rushing snaps that UT shouldn’t put up 200+ yards on the ground.
You should also keep a keen eye on receiver rotation as the game progresses. That could tell you who this staff really likes in different situations. I don’t look for phenomenal numbers from any one guy, unless a receiver steps up to the plate as the alpha male in this game, but I do see A LOT of receivers getting run in this game and recording stats. Look to see which receivers aren’t afraid of contact and to try to get yards after the catch. Also, look to see which receivers run their routes past the sticks, catch the ball with their hands, etc.
As far as the qb’s, we all know Worley gets the start but look for up to 3 to take snaps. Watch for one of the three to truly start to take command of the offense. Whoever is running the offense smoothly will get the most starts as the starter in 2013. If you can’t take control against AP then you will not see much time against SEC defenses barring injury.
PASS RUSH, PASS RUSH, PASS RUSH!!! AP has a little bit of size on their offensive line but I doubt they have a ton of ability. They were 2-9 last season for crying out loud! Tennessee should dominate the point of attack on the defensive side of the ball. Watch for McCullers to have a nice game. If he isn’t crushing the pocket then it could be a long season. If these ends, regardless of Smith and Vereen not playing, do not get a handful of sacks, then look out this season. Watch for a lot of pressure and a lot of holes for the linebackers to fill.
DB play is going to be something to watch. This is an upperclassmen receiving corp that AP is trotting out and they are all 6 ft and taller. The Vols defensive backfield left a lot to be desired last season, and this could be a great game for them to gain some confidence before the real games start. AP receiver size could give the db’s some fits, but will also be a great learning tool, especially for first time starter and true freshman Cam Sutton. Watch for a lot of zone and pay close attention to who they give help to and who is the one giving the help (shadowing McNeil or Randolph to one side of the field). What should be a great pass rush day can help these db’s gain confidence.
The final thing to watch for is how well this defense, specifically ends and linebackers, seal the edge. Do they allow the running backs to do work around the edges of the defense. This was a HUGE issue in 2012 and until it’s fixed I’m going to say it’s going to be an issues in 2013. There is too much size and ability for something that basic to be a problem that often. Again, if they are unable to seal the edge against AP, it will be a long season.
There isn’t much to say here because of how atrocious the kicking game is. I will say this, look for Palardy to really have a good day punting the football the couple of times that he will be punting. Outside of that, I have no faith in place kicking or field goal attempts so I’m not really looking for much there. The return game takes a hit with no CP, but I look for big things out of Devrin, Pig, Malik Foreman and Vincent Dallas. Those are definitely guys you should look for to get some run at punt and kick returner in this game. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone houses a punt today. I’m looking for the returners to make smart decisions (when to take the ball out of the endzone, when to call a fair catch, let the ball bounce or return it) as well as sure handedness in fielding punts and kicks. As much emphasis that has been put into this phase of the game in the offseason, I expect near perfection in the return game against a mediocre Austin Peay team.
There are many other things to watch for, but theses are the major ones that should give you an idea about how this team could do against better competition. Have fun tonight and GO VOLS!