Fearless Prediction: Tennessee vs. Ole Miss
The Fearless Prediction bounced back in a big way last weekend and we expect to keep the good times rolling with the biggest game of the season thus far. Truth be told, some Fearless Predictions are more exciting than others.
Kinda difficult to get pumped up for a Tennessee/Bowling Green prognostication.
But this week? Boy oh boy, the storylines as Tennessee faces old friend Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss Rebels. As you well know, Kiffin’s 13 1/2 months as the head coach were filled with controversy and ended with a midnight run to Southern Cal in January 2010.
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You can’t blame all of Tennessee football’s troubles the past 12 years on Lane … but he definitely deserves his share of the blame.
Kiffin famously flamed out at USC, spent 3 seasons in the Nick Saban coaching rehab facility, rebuilt his reputation at Florida Atlantic and is now the head coach at Ole Miss, a program on the rise and currently ranked 15th in the nation.
Time heals many wounds, and there will be some Vols fans that will welcome Kiffin back with open arms. But that doesn’t mean Saturday night will be all sunshine and puppy dogs. Lane will hear boos.
A couple of weeks ago this looked like a blowout victory for the Rebels. That’s not a sure thing anymore because it looks like Tennessee has the firepower to hang with Ole Miss.
The Vols’ offense is moving at warp speed the past 2 weeks, scoring a total of 107 points. Hendon Hooker has completed almost 70% of his passes for 1,063 yards and 13 touchdowns overall, while also rushing for 282 yards and 3 scores. He’s Tennessee’s best QB since Josh Dobbs left town in 2016.
Hooker has had his share of help. Tiyon Evans has rushed for 486 yards and 6 touchdowns. Velus Jones, Jr. is tops on the team with 22 catches. The Vols are 19th in the FBS in total offense and 7th in rushing, a far cry from what Tennessee put on the field during the Pruitt era. They are scoring an average of 41.5 points per game and gaining 474 yards per contest.
As good as Tennessee’s offense has been, Kiffin’s Rebels have been even more impressive. Quarterback Matt Corral has become a Heisman Trophy candidate with nearly 1,500 yards passing and 12 scores, while having yet to throw an interception. Like Hooker, Corral can run when he has to with 255 yards and 8 scores.
Corral’s top option in the passing game is Dontario Drummond, who has 26 catches in 5 outings. The Rebels run the ball a bunch too with Henry Parrish Jr. and Snoop Conner each picking up over 6 yards per carry as part of the 5th-best rushing attack in the nation.
Ole Miss is 2nd in the country in total offense, picking up 561 yards a game. They are averaging more than 46 points per contest.
What we are saying here … is that Saturday could be a long night for the defenses. While both units are improved from a year ago, it looks like they will each be overmatched.
Tennessee is banged up. That’s no secret. But they are facing a Rebels squad that just played Alabama and Arkansas in consecutive weeks. Games against those teams take a physical toll, so Ole Miss won’t be 100% either.
I was at the Tennessee/South Carolina game last weekend. Despite the early kickoff, tailgates around the UT campus were packed and the atmosphere was terrific. This is a fan base that is very supportive, even during the bad times (and there have been a lot of those lately). A win Saturday would not only push them another step closer to relevance, but it would also exorcise some demons.
The night kickoff will give fans more than enough time to get properly hydrated. It’ll be a packed house at Neyland Stadium. The old barn is celebrating its 100th birthday and has seen some classic games over the years. Saturday night could be one of the special ones.
Get your popcorn ready.
Fearless Prediction time …
Tennessee 52, Ole Miss 49