Here are five things to watch Saturday when Western Kentucky travels to Knoxville to face Tennessee.
1 — Tennessee’s O-line vs. the WKU front: To me, the biggest key for either team Saturday. If the five upperclassmen on Tennessee’s offensive line are able to neutralize WKU in the run game and shut down any sort of pass rush the Hilltoppers throw their way, it’ll be an easy win for the Vols.
Don’t fail to forget just how young and inexperienced the Western Kentucky defensive line is – and just how undersized they’ll be in this matchup.
2 — Tennessee’s secondary against the WKU pass: Western Kentucky’s receivers are still learning on the fly, but all signs seem to indicate that the Volunteers in the back end are UT’s weakest link on defense.
WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty was extremely efficient and accurate in the win last week against Kentucky, so can he and his young group of wide receivers have the same sort of success against UT?
3 — Turnovers: The Hilltoppers did not do a good job last week of forcing turnovers, actually losing the turnover margin 2-1. Just think what kind of score would have shown on the scoreboard had WKU taken the ball away from UK a few more times than it did?
Conversely, Antonio Andrews’ two fumbles kept UK around perhaps longer than it should have been. That can’t happen Saturday. To spring this sort of upset on the road, the Tops will need to not only go turnover free, but likely come up with a few breaks of their own.
4 — WKU run game: Some folks seemed to be surprised at the way the Hilltoppers ran the ball last week against Kentucky. They shouldn’t be.
This roster is built from within to run the football, thanks to Willie Taggart’s recruiting to his West Coast, run-heavy system. The Tops are loaded in the backfield and have five very good offensive linemen who have been bred to run block.
But the question Saturday becomes whether that unit can have the same success against the likes of Tennessee? The Vols have a very strong front seven on the defensive side of the ball and monster-type size on the defensive line. If WKU can’t get the run game going to open up the pass, that could spell trouble.
5 — Petrino vs. Jones: I brought this up last week because it seemed to me that everyone was forgetting Mark Stoops had never coached a football game before while Bobby Petrino has won 75 percent of the contests he’s been at the helm of.
The coaching matchup is a little more even this week when Petrino faces Butch Jones. I see some similarities here with the way the two run things in terms of on-the-field discipline, focus, technique and play calling. How each man manages the game will be critical in what I see as a close, competitive football game.
Bonus — @joeimel and I: How will the two of us survive this trip? Leaving sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. from Bowling Green after a full night of high school football, crashing somewhere in east Tennessee, then awaking early for a full day of college football – can we do it? How many coffees will we consume? How many Rock Star energy drinks will I need once the final score has been produced? Will Imel fall asleep in the end zone? Godspeed to us both.