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September 5, 2013Follow @SeanWKURivals
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Could the Hilltoppers be 2-0 in the SEC East when the dust settles on Saturday? As Kevin Garnett once said, "anything is possible." A much tougher task awaits as Western Kentucky travels to Smokey Mountain Country to face the Tennessee Volunteers in the unfriendly confines of Neyland Stadium.
The Vols are fresh off a ho-hum 45-0 win over Austin Peay, where they compiled 447 total yards of offense that included junior quarterback Justin Worley going 11-13 passing for 104 yards and three touchdowns and senior running back Rajon Neal running rough-shot for 141 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown.
It was 42-0 at halftime, and most of the Tennessee starters didn't play in the second half during the cruise fest, which begs this question - with WKU having played a competitive opening game against Kentucky in their opener, will the Vols be a little rusty coming out the gate on Saturday morning?
That will be interesting to see.
Butch Jones and his coaching staff made it pretty clear this week that the gameplan against the Govs was basic and simple, so expect the Vols playbook to open up a little bit more to counter the offensive mind of Bobby Petrino.
What to watch for
Wild Pig - The Vols have been working on some offensive packages with wide receiver Alton "Pig" Howard in the wildcat formation. Butch Jones said the packages are in the playbook, but failed to say if they'd be utilized during Saturday's game.
Testing Worley - Junior quarterback Justin Worley had an efficient day, but that was against the Governors. Worley will be facing an experienced Hilltopper secondary and aside from Pig Howard and Vincent Dallas, will have some inexperienced wide receivers to throw to that include freshmen Marquez North, Josh Smith, and Jason Croom.
However, both North and Croom could create mismatches with their size (North: 6'4", 215 - Croom: 6'5", 225) and Worley has experience, but overall, this is a matchup that WKU could take advantage of.
Delvin Young out - Speaking of weapons for Worley, Delvin Young suffered a wrist injury during Tuesday's practice when he fell on his left arm and broke his wrist, he is expected to be out 4-6 weeks. Young is not only important in the receiving game, but was the Vols main punt and kick returner as well. Jonathan Johnson and Vincent Dallas will replace Young at wide receiver by committee, while Jacob Carter and Cam Sutton are expected to see time in the return game.
Neutralizing the O-line - Tennessee's offensive line is loaded with size and experience, check out this meaty lineup:
OT - Anthony "Tiny" Richardson: 6-foot-6, 320-pounds
OT - Ja'Waun James: 6-foot-6, 318-pounds
OG - Alex Bullard: 6-foot-2, 302-pounds
OG - Zach Fulton: 6-foot-5, 325-pounds
C - James Stone: 6-foot-3, 291-pounds
Expect the Volunteers to feed Rajion Neal and Marlon Lane early and often after rushing for 315 yards against Austin Peay.
The Hilltoppers revamped defensive line of Gavin Rocker, Bar'ree Boyd, Devante Terrell, and Bryan Shorter got pressure in Kentucky's backfield, but also allowed some big run plays by Raymond Sanders and Jalen Whitlow. That is something defensive coordinator Nick Holt said they are working on tightening up for Tennessee, the D-line will have to be very gap responsible on Saturday and hopefully springboard the pipe-hitters Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd through the line of scrimmage.
Blocking the D-line - The WKU offensive line faired quite well against a top-notch SEC defensive line last week, escorting the running backs to 216 yards rushing and keeping quarterback Brandon Doughty relatively clean, allowing only one sack.
Another top-notch, experienced SEC D-line awaits the challenge down at Rocky Top with Jordan Williams and Corey Miller at the ends with Daniel Hood and the massive (6'8," 351 pound) Daniel McCullers at the tackle spots.
Much like the Vols, the catalyst for the Hilltoppers offense will be the running game. Of course, WKU will need to minimize the fumble issues they had against Kentucky, which the Wildcats converted into ten points.
It's important to minimize the turnovers and Feed The Studs (F.T.S).
Create turnovers - Tennessee played a clean game last week, zero penalties, zero turnovers. That's impressive, no matter who the opponent is. It shows this team is well disciplined under new head coach Butch Jones.
However, the Hilltoppers have the athletes on defense to fly towards the ball and make plays, especially when you consider the ball-hawks lurking in the secondary like Jonathan Dowling, Arius Wright, and Cam Thomas. A turnover is bound to happen and it's important for the WKU defense to penetrate that shield of invincibility from the Vols.
Make some noise - The noise level of 100,000+ butts (and probably a few fanny packs) inside Neyland Stadium will be an obstacle, but nothing this Hilltopper team hasn't seen before, they faced it against Alabama last season.
Head coach Bobby Petrino has already installed silent counts which the Tops utilized during Saturday's game at L.P. Field, so they are prepared. Still, the environment will be on a grander scale and it will be interesting to see how the new receivers are able to adapt to the loud surround sound.
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