Tennessee and Oklahoma meet in Knoxville on Saturday evening for an intriguing Week 2 non-conference matchup, with this game also serving as a good barometer test for two programs looking to get back on track. Oklahoma was expected to be a playoff contender in 2014, but the Sooners slipped to 8-5. Bob Stoops wasted no time addressing his team's biggest problems, revamping his coaching staff and changing the offensive scheme back to an Air Raid approach. Tennessee is trending in the right direction under coach Butch Jones, and a win against Oklahoma would be another piece the rebuilding puzzle on Rocky Top.
Both teams earned victories in Week 1, but both programs are looking for improvement. Tennessee’s defense struggled against Bowling Green, while Oklahoma’s revamped offense started slow against Akron. While this game doesn’t factor into either team’s conference championship hopes, this is an excellent opportunity for both programs to gauge where they are after two weeks.
Tennessee and Oklahoma have played three previous times, with the Sooners owning a 2-1 edge. Oklahoma won last year’s matchup 34-10 in Norman.
Oklahoma at Tennessee
Kickoff: 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oklahoma -1.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Tennessee’s Secondary
Tennessee’s secondary was torched in last week’s win over Bowling Green, and this unit will be tested once again. The Volunteers’ defensive backs gave up 433 passing yards and two touchdowns to the Falcons, while allowing five plays of 30 yards or more. This unit has been hit with a few injuries this preseason, but Oklahoma’s passing attack has all of the necessary components to take advantage. New quarterback Baker Mayfield is a good fit in the new Air Raid attack and finished the opener with 388 passing yards and three scores. Receiver Sterling Shepard is one of the best in college football and is a tough one-on-one matchup for the Volunteers. Will cornerback Cam Sutton spend most of his snaps on Shepard? Even if Tennessee finds a way to contain Shepard, the Sooners have other options to target, including Jarvis Baxter (five catches in his first game with the Sooners), Durron Neal, Dede Westbrook and Mark Andrews as key weapons in the passing attack. Additionally, running back Joe Mixon showcased his playmaking ability out of the backfield by catching three balls for 115 yards and a touchdown. Stopping any passing attack has to start in the trenches with a good pass rush. While Tennessee’s secondary doesn’t share the entire blame for last week’s performance, this group has to play better if the Volunteers want to improve to 2-0.
2. Oklahoma’s Defense Against Tennessee’s Rising Stars
The Volunteers have arguably one of the nation’s best trio of rising stars on offense. Joshua Dobbs picked up where he left off in 2014 with a strong performance against Bowling Green, throwing for 205 yards and two scores on 15 completions and rushing for 89 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Running backs Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd each eclipsed 100 yards in last week’s win over the Falcons. This duo will test an Oklahoma front seven that allowed 138 rushing yards to Akron in Week 1. The Sooners have one of the nation’s top linebacking corps, but the line entered the season with a few question marks. Will Oklahoma’s front seven contain the one-two punch of Kamara and Hurd on the ground? And if the Sooners are able to slow the rushing attack, will this secondary limit Dobbs’ through the air? After all, Oklahoma surrendered 24 plays of 30 yards or more last season, and the defensive backs have a lot to prove this fall – especially against a solid group of Tennessee receivers.
3. Oklahoma’s Ground Attack
While most of the attention in Week 1 was devoted to the revamped scheme and quarterback Baker Mayfield, lost in the box score was just 100 yards on 33 rushing attempts against Akron. While the Zips have one of the better front sevens in the MAC, the Sooners need more production from the rushing attack to win in Knoxville. Redshirt freshman Joe Mixon showed his big-play ability with a 76-yard catch and run for a score. In addition to Mixon’s emergence, Oklahoma still has Samaje Perine (only 33 yards in the opener) and Alex Ross (20 yards in Week 1). This is one of the best backfields in the nation, but the Sooners have a young offensive line. Can this group generate a push against the Volunteers’ defensive line? Tennessee defensive tackle Danny O’Brien was suspended indefinitely, but this unit is led by standout end Derek Barnett, with talented freshmen Shy Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie in place as rising stars in the middle.
The Sooners and Volunteers enter this matchup with question marks on both sides of the ball. However, both teams should have a better idea of where they stand after Saturday night’s meeting in Neyland Stadium. Oklahoma’s passing attack should give Tennessee’s secondary trouble, and the backfield should have a better performance than it did in last week’s win over Akron. The Volunteers should be able to move the ball on the Sooners’ defense as well, so this matchup could be a high-scoring affair. The homefield advantage certainly helps Tennessee, and the emerging one-two punch of Hurd and Kamara will be tough for Oklahoma to contain. This one is a tossup, but a slight edge goes to the Sooners.