Position Edges: Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Vols and Hokies are set to play in front of a college football record crowd Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The NCAA attendance record is 115,109, set in 2013 when Michigan hosted Notre Dame.
Bristol Motor Speedway seats 153,000. More than that are expected.
Both teams enter the Battle at Bristol with not the most stellar performances on opening week.
Tennessee’s 20-13 overtime victory over Appalachian State may have been a case of not showing too much before the meat of the schedule, and the Hokies struggled against Liberty before taking command in a 36-13 victory.
Here’s how they match up:
WHEN TENNESSEE HAS THE BALL
QB Josh Dobbs vs. Virginia Tech’s defense
There’s no question that Dobbs did not have one of his better games against Appalachian State. He was 16 of 29 for 192 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown to Josh Malone; there’s room for improvement against Virginia Tech.
The Hokies have some playmakers in the secondary.
Senior free safety Chuck Clark led the Hokies last season with 107 tackles – 30 more than the team’s runner-up. Clark led the team last week with seven.
Greg Stroman had two interceptions in the opener against Liberty and Terrell Edmunds had one.
Tennessee has the receivers to attack downfield, but before giving the Vols the edge, they will need to show they’re winning and able to do so.
Edge: Virginia Tech
Tennessee’s RBs vs. Virginia Tech’s run defense
Jalen Hurd was the Vols’ workhorse against Appalachian State. Hurd can certainly be a workhouse, but for Tennessee to beat Virginia Tech, the Vols will need to shed some of his workload and become more creative.
Becoming more creative with Alvin Kamara would be a good first step. Kamara only ran six times to Hurd’s 28 carries against Appalachian State. The more touches for Kamara can might help free up the box and also provide room for Dobbs to run more.
Dobbs was a non-factor rushing in the opener: 9 carries for negative 4 yards.
The Vols kept it simple against Appalachian State. Perhaps that was the plan and to save the rest of the playbook for Va. Tech, which was one of the ACC’s worst run defenses last season.
WHEN TENNESSEE IS ON DEFENSE
QB Jerod Evans vs. Tennessee’s defense
Evans, a standout JUCO transfer who started his career at Air Force, was efficient against Liberty: 20-for-32 for 221 yards and four touchdowns. He also had five rushes for 46 yards, his longest for 37 yards.
Hokies WR Isaiah Ford can be a difference-maker. Ford finished with 11 receptions and 117 receiving yards against Liberty. He also scored a touchdown. Bucky Hodges, a massive target at 6-7, 245 pounds, had three receptions for 42 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has proven he can make halftime adjustments, and now has Week 1 game film on Evans and their offense.
Virginia Tech’s running game vs. Tennessee’s defense
Like Dobbs, Evans is a threat in the running game.
He was the top dual-threat JUCO QB available in 2016. And he led the balanced Hokies ground game with 57 yards (46 officially, after losing 11 yards from a sack).
The Hokies spread the touches around against Liberty. Ten players had a carry, including five who had five or more.
The Hokies ran for 206 but will have a tougher task against the Vols. Tennessee gave up 184 rushing yards on 43 carries to Appalachian State. The Mountaineers ran the ball 20 more times than throwing it, something that will be different against Virginia Tech.
The Hokies ran the ball only seven more times than throwing it against Liberty. With a pass rush and tighter coverages, having a balanced offensive attack may be harder for the Hokies in Bristol.
Vols kicker Aaron Medley made a 23-yard and 39-yard field goal in the opener but only had one of four kickoffs reach the end zone for a touchback.
Punter Trevor Daniel picked up from a successful 2015 season with six punts for an average of 49.2 yards.
Evan Berry only had one kick return, but it went for 41 yards. Cam Sutton fumbled the first punt he received, which set up an Appalachian State touchdown.
Virginia Tech’s Joey Slye made 2-of-3 field goal attempts, with a long of 34 yards. Mitchell Ludwig averaged 39 yards on five punts.
Greg Stroman returned two kickoffs for an average 30.5 yards against Liberty, while returning three punts for only an average of 7.3 yards per punt.