College football’s Week 3 slate is light on good matchups, but there’s some name value in the meeting between Tennessee and Oklahoma. Both programs won national championships during the BCS era, and there’s some extra appeal in this game due to Bob Stoops’ comments about the SEC last season. Even though the Oklahoma and Tennessee brands are good enough to catch television eyeballs on Saturday night, the actual matchup may leave something to be desired. The Sooners are a threat to win the national title in 2014, while the Volunteers are rebuilding in coach Butch Jones’ second year.
This will be only the third meeting between Oklahoma and Tennessee. The Volunteers defeated the Sooners in the 1939 Orange Bowl, while Oklahoma won the second meeting 26-24.
Tennessee at Oklahoma
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET, Saturday
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Oklahoma -20.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Tennessee’s Offensive Line
The Volunteers had to replace all five starters on the line this preseason, and through two games, it’s clear this unit is a work in progress. Tennessee has allowed four sacks on 78 pass attempts and rushers are recording 3.3 yards per carry. Those numbers won’t get it done on Saturday, as Oklahoma’s defense is one of the best in the nation. The Sooners have yet to allow a rushing touchdown and opponents are averaging just 2.4 yards per carry. Will this group give quarterback Justin Worley time to throw and open up rushing lanes for the Tennessee running backs?
2. Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight
Knight’s development as Oklahoma’s quarterback was one of the biggest question marks in 2014. Sure, Knight had a huge performance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But could he carry that into a full season? So far, so good. Knight’s competition hasn’t been elite, but the sophomore has thrown for 552 yards, three touchdowns and completed 58.8 percent of his passes. Knight has also rushed for 52 yards on nine attempts. Tennessee has talent in the secondary, headlined by sophomore cornerback Cameron Sutton. But while there is talent, the Volunteers are also very young in the defensive backfield. Considering Tennessee’s youth, Knight should build off a strong start to the season and will connect with Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal and K.J. Young for build plays on Saturday.
3. Oklahoma’s Defense
Although Tennessee is in rebuild mode, second-year coach Butch Jones has talent to work with on offense. Running backs Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane combined for 207 yards through two games, and receiver Marquez North is one of the best in the SEC. Despite the talent at the skill positions, the Volunteers’ success on Saturday will be up to quarterback Justin Worley. The senior has thrown for 520 yards and five scores in two games, but the matchup with Oklahoma is clearly the toughest of the season. The Sooners have recorded two sacks in two games and all three touchdown passes allowed came after the score was not in doubt. The defense also received good news this week with the health status of cornerback Zack Sanchez. The sophomore was injured against Tulsa but is expected to play on Saturday. The Sooners are deep, athletic and one of the best defenses in the nation. Can Tennessee counter that with quick passes to protect an inexperienced offensive line? And if the Volunteers can’t get any push on the ground, can they throw enough to stay in this game? Against a defense like Oklahoma, no rushing attack and a shaky offensive line is not a good recipe for success.
Tennessee is making strides, but Oklahoma is simply the better team. With a collection of good talent at the skill positions – running backs Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane and receiver Marquez North – the Volunteers could have some success moving the ball early in the first half. However, the Sooners’ defense eventually wrestles control of the game, and Knight turns in another huge performance to boost Oklahoma to 3-0.