Gameday is almost here for the Tennessee Vols and Saturday’s matchup with Ole Miss is perhaps the biggest game we’ve seen inside Neyland Stadium in the last five years. Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin is bringing the 13th-ranked team in the nation to Knoxville and the Big Orange faithful want to see nothing more than their former coach take a loss at the hands of their new coach, Josh Heupel.
Ole Miss is favored by 2.5 points but most analysts consider this game winnable for Tennessee. So, here’s two factors that should work in the Vols’ favor and could help them walk out of Neyland with a victory…
Tim Banks’ defense
Everyone is thinking about offense when analyzing this game. Rightfully so, Ole Miss has the No. 2 offense in America (averaging 562 yards per game) while Tennessee has the No. 18 offensive unit (averaging 474 yards per game). But, I was watching Friday morning’s A to Z Sports Nashville show and former Vols quarterback Jonathan Crompton made a great point. He said that he thought the thing that could make the difference for UT is actually its defense, and I think he’s exactly right.
We all know plenty of points will be scored by both teams in this game but statistically, the Vols’ have a marked advantage on defense. The Rebels are near the bottom of the SEC in nearly all defensive categories. They hemorrhaged 676 yards of offense and gave up 37 points in the 2nd half alone during last week’s game against Arkansas. For comparison, Tennessee has been giving up 344 yards per game while Ole Miss is allowing 432 yards on average.
But the primary difference is in the running game. The Vols have the No. 30 run defense nationally (112 YPG) while the Rebels are giving up 194 yards on average and rank 108th overall. Arkansas gouged the Rebs for 350 yards and Alabama ran for 210 on the ground against them. If Vols defensive coordinator Tim Banks can get his unit to dig in, get some early stops, and UT can jump out to an early lead, Tennessee will have a great chance to win this game. An early lead is key given the depth issues that the Vols have and the defense might be the biggest factor in getting and keeping that lead.
Neyland Stadium is going to be absolutely rocking on Saturday night. Tennessee fans will have all day to get ready (a.k.a. get liquored up and hyped up) for the 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff. ‘Checker Neyland’ will be in effect and the game is a certified sell-out. And as we’ve all seen over the years, opponents are confident until they experience 102,455 ravenous Big Orange fans bearing down on them.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Vol fans will affect the game against Ole Miss. From drowning out communication for the Rebels’ offense to rattling OM quarterback Matt Corral, the Neyland crowd can put their stamp on this game early and often.
If Heupel can get his team out to a quick lead as I mentioned above, the crowd will likely be at a fever pitch and would help spur on momentum for the Big Orange. Even though none of us in the stands can get out on the field and make a play, there’s plenty we can do to help Tennessee. So, get there and get loud and let’s make sure that Neyland is every bit of the intimidating college football cathedral that we all know it can be.
Featured image via Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports via Imagn