Tennessee will square off against the Buffalo Bulls Saturday inside Neyland Stadium. It's a much needed cupcake following a bye week after a gut wrenching loss in Gainesville. The bye week couldn't have come at a better time, with the loss of Justin Hunter for the season, and this game against the Bulls will give the offense a chance to get it's legs without the super sophomore receiver. They will be leaning heavily on the remaining receivers/tight ends to really step their games up. The Vols also need the run game to get churning, which has been an emphasis in these past two weeks of practice.
There are several things I am looking for from this game that Vols fans have not seen yet or would like to have continue from the past three games.
1. I want to see the offense continue to go deep in the passing game. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said this week that nothing is really going to change schematically for the Volunteers' offense. I really hope that this holds true. Da'Rick Rogers has the ability to be a huge playmaker for this offense, and can stretch the field. The loss of Hunter hurts, there is no denying this, but it doesn't have to be crippling in the passing game, This team has weapons and I want to see them utilized. Zach Rogers will need to step up, as well as DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas. All of these players have good speed, Z. Rogers is an experienced route runner and knows the offense, and Arnett showed that he can play with the big boys after leading the team in catches against UF. Dallas only has one catch, but has been on campus since January and could be a factor in the gameplan.The wildcards here are Matt Milton and Rajion Neal. This brings me to my next point,
2. Continuing with the passing game, I want to see Matt Milton and Rajion Neal make themselves very useful targets for Tyler Bray. Matt Milton has great size at 6'6" 210lbs and was laser timed as the 2nd fastest pure receiver on the roster behind Hunter posting a 4.46 40. That is a matchup problem for just about any corner in the SEC. Milton's issues lie in his pass catching consistency and endurance. A game against Buffalo is just what the doctor ordered in getting him some full speed experience and a chance to prove that he can be a go to guy. Tennessee could use a guy with his size and speed to step up and be a difference maker in the passing game. On to Neal. Rajion Neal has been dubbed the fastest player on the roster, but that hasn't equaled to good in game performance. Granted he has been sidelined/slowed by a knee injury suffered in fall camp, he has yet to see any significant playing time. He said earlier in the week that he probably will not be 100% until after the season and will have to fight through the pain, but is itching to see the field. Tennessee needs him to produce, and in a big way. I want to see him rack up some decent receiving stats against Buffalo. He was moved to receiver from running back during fall camp, and with his speed an ball catching ability, can cause a matchup issue on slower linebackers and safeties. He could also be deadly in the screen game and gives Chaney another weapon. I want to see him utilized against Buffalo and get used to game speed before the rest of October arrives.
3. Staying with the offense, I want to see massive stats to the positive in the run game. There is 0 reason that Tennessee should not be able to rush for near 200 yards against a team like Buffalo. Of course, we all thought the same thing about Montana, but that didn't happen. I'm going to be honest, I don't think Tauren Poole is a high caliber SEC back. He is middle of the road at best. Sure, he rushed for 1,000 yards last season, but that is an extremely misleading stat. Lane looks to be the better back, and as the season progresses, do not be surprised if he gets more of the lion's share of carries. Actually, don't be surprised if you see him carry a heavier load against the Bulls. All we have heard the past two weeks is that the Vols know why the run game hasn't worked to this point, and that they have made strides to fix it. Dooley has said that the o-line isn't performing as bad as some think, and he puts more of an emphasis on the conviction and violence of the running from the backs. I want to see them run with violence and conviction like Dooley says he wants. Tom Smith is coming off the shelf this week, which could give the backfield a little boost. If Poole can get well over 100 yards, Lane close to 100, and whoever comes in after that can be successful as well, I will call it a successful day on the ground.
4. Defensively, I would like to see 2 things. These are sacks and turnovers. Buffalo is another no huddle spread offense, which means that high sack totals may be hard to come by, but Tennessee should be able to win the battle in the trenches and at least record 2 sacks in this game and a bunch of hurries. Tennessee is dead even in the turnover margin. The defense has 1 interception, has recovered 2 fumbles, and recovered a muffed punt. This is not indicative of a Justin Wilcox defense, and after the showing of the secondary against mediocre competition to end 2010, I expect more from this defense as far as creating turnovers. Losing Janzen Jackson hurt, and having Waggner playing at safety as opposed to corner hinders some of the interceptions numbers, but they should be able to intercept a ball or two against the Bulls. If freshman safety Brian Randolph shows well in this game (I look for him to get a lot of playing time Saturday), you could see him get the starting nod at safety very soon which would allow Waggner to move back to corner where he belongs. Bottom line, this was one of the better secondaries in the SEC in terms of creating turnovers to end 2010, and with only losing one player from last season, they should pick up where they left off.
5. Finally, I would like to see a punt return over 9 yards and a kickoff return that at least crosses midfield and Palardy to be 100% on field goals. Lets be honest, Tennessee has bigger and better athletes than Buffalo. That's not a shot at the Bulls, but just the nature of the beast that is high dollar SEC football. The Vols should be dominant in special teams against inferior competition. Now, Da'Rick Rogers is no longer on kick returns, but we will see the debut of heralded special teamer Devrin Young. He is listed as a co starter on kickoffs and punts. This is the perfect game to to see what he can do, and against the Bulls, I expect him to show very well. The coaches recruited him for one main purpose, and that is to gain yards on special teams. He could potentially add another dimension to the offense, but for Saturday, lets see him make waves on "teams". As far as Palardy goes, he says he has pinpointed his issues with consistency, so I want to see if he made the proper adjustments. I don't see Tennessee needing to kick a lot of 3 pointers in this game, but he says he should never miss a kick inside 48 yards, so I want to see him do just that.
Some may say that these are very high expectations, but for a team that is expecting to compete with the upper echelon SEC teams this season, they need to perform very well against much lower competition. They do not need to play down, but instead play as if they were going against Alabama, LSU, etc. I want to see them come out with the same tenacity and ferocity that you see from the upper echelon teams in this league. Buffalo has a couple of nice players, but they shouldn't really be competitive in this game, They run an offense Tennessee has seen twice already this season, so schematically this is old news. The Vols have talked for the past two weeks that hey are correcting mistakes in the abysmal run game and I expect to see that on the field. I want to see the offense not miss too much of a beat without Hunter and I want to see the defense create turnovers and be a force in the backfield. These expectations may be unreasonable when going against some of the other teams they will face in October, but a statement win against Buffalo should give the program and fans a boost when UGA comes a calling next month.