5 bold predictions for Tennessee vs. Nebraska in Music City Bowl
Football is a game of opportunities, and in a difficult season, Tennessee has one final opportunity to make a meaningful statement in the Music City Bowl.
Lest the year be remembered only for Butch Jones’s instantly infamous “champions of life” quip, the Vols can put a beating on a Big Ten foe, and one of the few teams in college football with an equal, if not superior, tradition to the Vols.
We’re bringing you five bold predictions that come to mind from breaking down these two traditional powerhouses ahead of their Music City Bowl matchup.
1. Nebraska will get it done on the ground: QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. is questionable to doubtful due to a lingering hamstring injury, but the Huskers rely on the ground game anyway, running to passing at about a 60/40 rate for the season. Of course, Tennessee had massive problems stopping the run – allowing 350-plus rushing yards in four of their final seven games of the regular season. RB Terrell Newby is a little banged up, but his season high so far is 140 yards against Illinois. He’ll top it in the MCB.
2. Joshua Dobbs will get it done in the air: Dobbs is one of those players who looks adequate against good competition, but is lights out against mediocre opponents. Well, folks, this ain’t your Grandpa’s Nebraska team. The Huskers are 9-3 but their “big win” was an early upset of an Oregon team that was awful. In Dobbs’ final four regular season games — against the kind of talent he’ll face in the MCB, he passed for 969 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 393 yards. Dobbs will burn the Huskers a time or two on the ground, and then take advantage of them in the passing game.
3. Derek Barnett will be involved in a score: Nebraska used to be Offensive Line U, and even now, they have allowed just 11 sacks all season. That said, the Huskers are making their way through the Big Ten, against plenty of opponents who are as big as UT defensive end Derek Barnett, but none who are as big and as fast. Barnett has the added motivation that if he can record a sack Friday, he will become Tennessee’s all-time sack leader. A wild prediction? The sack forces a fumble that becomes a strip-and-score for somebody on the Vol front line.
4. The punt game also earns the Vols a touchdown: Husker punter Caleb Lightbourn has an issue with slowing down his kicks. Three times this year, he’s had a punt block. Tennessee will know this and will look to make a play in the kicking game. That said, the smart money isn’t on a block — but on Lightbourn rushing a kick to avoid a potential block and in doing so, setting up the UT return game to take advantage. Cam Sutton has had a difficult season after a serious injury that knocked him out early. He’s probably playing at well under 100 percent health, but a punt return touchdown would make him feel much better.
5. The best bet in this game is the over, and Tennessee will set a MCB scoring record: West Virginia scored a MCB-record 49 points in 2000. The Vols will break into the 50s. Nebraska will hit some big plays in the run game, but between a defensive score, a special teams score, and Dobbs doing what he does to subpar defenses, Tennessee will ultimately boat-race a decimated Nebraska team. Feeling something like 51-27 in this one. The over/under is hanging around 60, and that will be in jeopardy by halftime.