It will be a wild scene in Neyland Stadium on Saturday night in Knoxville. The Tennessee Volunteers have fallen on hard times. The fan base has been apathetic for a good portion of the past few years, since UT football has been hard to watch for a considerable amount of time.
By Matt Zemek
However, this weekend will bring some electricity back to Neyland. Part of the reason for this is that Tennessee has thumped Missouri and South Carolina in consecutive weeks. That always gets the fan base more amped. The other reason – combined with the Vols’ recent improvements – is the fact that Lane Kiffin is returning to Knoxville as an opposing head coach.
Kiffin has coached in Knoxville since he left the Vols in 2009, but not as a head coach. He was Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama when he returned to Neyland Stadium, but he didn’t return to Neyland when he was the head coach at Florida Atlantic University. He finally comes back to Knoxville as a head coach this weekend when his Ole Miss Rebels come to town for a very interesting game. Let’s look at what Ole Miss needs to do to survive this night atmosphere, in front of a sold-out checkerboard crowd in a grand old SEC ballyard.
1 – Mentally regroup
Ole Miss played a mentally exhausting game against Arkansas. The Hogs jumped the Rebels early. Ole Miss came back and took a lead. Arkansas fought back to tie. Ole Miss grabbed a late advantage, Arkansas drove back down the field and scored at the very end of regulation. Then came a one-play resolution to the game, an Arkansas 2-point conversion attempt. Ole Miss stopped it for the victory, but the Rebels were pushed to their absolute limits. That was a draining weekend.
Ole Miss needs to have a low-key week, regather its strength and focus, and be ready to go all-out on game day in Knoxville. The turnaround from the past week is tricky, and Ole Miss needs to show how mentally tough it is. This won’t be a physically brutal game; it sets up to be a shootout. Mental acuity and sharpness will decide this tilt.
2 – Offensive line
The Ole Miss offensive front hammered Arkansas’ defensive front. If the Rebels’ O-line can dominate Tennessee’s defensive line with similar consistency and completeness, that is the surest and most direct way to take a huge Neyland crowd of over 100,000 people out of the game. It is the central component of an Ole Miss win, at least if measured by position groups on the field.
3 – Red-zone defense
Ole Miss couldn’t prevent Arkansas from regularly scoring touchdowns. No one should expect Ole Miss to be genuinely good on defense, but when Tennessee moves the ball (and it will), Ole Miss has to be able to force more field goals in the red zone. Ole Miss will likely give up at least 30 points, but the key in this game is to give up fewer than 40 points. The Rebels should score at least 40. If they limit Tennessee to 33 points instead of 49, or 36 instead of 56, they should fancy their chances.