5 impact players to watch: Tennessee vs. Western Carolina
Aside from perhaps Arkansas, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more downtrodden bunch in the SEC than the Tennessee fan base following a double-overtime loss to Oklahoma in Week 2.
The Vols have a chance to have a “get right” game against Western Carolina on Saturday before hitting the road to face Florida in Week 4.
If things go as planned for Tennessee, the impact players in this game will not be guys like RB Jalen Hurd or DE Derek Barnett; instead, the focus should be on developing areas in need of improvement before heading for The Swamp.
Here are five impact players to watch in the Tennessee vs. Western Carolina game this week (in no particular order):
1. Tennessee WR Josh Malone – After two games, one thing about the Vols offense is certain: the passing game needs work. Throwing for just 330 yards through two contests, the Vols rank 13th in the league in passing offense. While some may lay the blame for that at the feet of offensive coordinator Mike DeBord or QB Joshua Dobbs, the Tennessee wide receivers must carry at least part of the burden for the lack of production. Sophomore Josh Malone leads the team with five receptions and has been one of the guys that has flashed an ability to get open during the team’s first two games. It is time for Malone, or anyone really, to step forward with a breakout game against lesser talent to help Vols fans feel a little better about the passing game.
2. Western Carolina RB Detrez Newsome – There weren’t many bright spots in the Catamounts’ 28-10 loss to The Citadel last week, but Newsome was one of them. He rushed for 121 yards in the losing effort, and leads the team with 162 yards and two rushing touchdowns through two games. Newsome also returns kicks for the Catamounts, averaging 25.2 yards per return.
3. Tennessee WR Marquez North – We’re coming back to the wide receiver corps because this is just too important for the rest of the Vols season. North had an injury scare during fall camp, which could explain his slow start to the 2015 season. But for a guy that was expected to lead a deep and talented group of Vols receivers, one catch for nine yards through two games is disappointing by almost any measure.
4. Western Carolina QB Troy Mitchell – With 28 starts under his belt, Mitchell is Western Carolina’s career leader in total yardage and has enough experience to give the Vols secondary some trouble if they are not on top of their game. That being said, he hasn’t been off to the best start to the season, throwing three interceptions compared to just one touchdown in 83 pass attempts. He is averaging 286.5 yards of total offense so far this season.
5. Tennessee LB Austin Smith – We know that senior LB/DE Curt Maggitt will miss a significant portion of the season due to an injury suffered in the game against the Sooners last week. What we don’t know is exactly how the Vols will replace his production. According to WBIR in Knoxville, freshman Austin Smith will get the first crack at the strong-side linebacker role. Saturday’s game will be a good test to see just how much of a drop off there will be here, because if Smith struggles against Western Carolina there is a good chance he may be over-matched against Florida the following week.