NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nebraska has not been able to run the ball consistently in months, and Tennessee hasn’t been able to stop any rushing attack recently.
So does that automatically suggest the obvious? Are the Volunteers the perfect remedy the Huskers have been looking for? Will Nebraska run all day on Tennessee in the Music City Bowl on Friday?
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for SEC Country and says not so fast. To get more insight on the other side of the field, we asked Griffith a few things about the game on Friday.
Here’s what he had to say about the bowl game:
Q: After going from a possible Sugar Bowl berth to the Music City Bowl, will Tennessee care about this game?
Griffith: They have to care considering the Vols ended their season with an embarrassing 45-34 loss in this same city to Vanderbilt. There’s not much worse for a Tennessee player than losing to Vanderbilt in football, as far as legacies go. The Vols have several starters from the Nashville area, and they’ll want to leave the Music City with a better taste in their mouths and get some redemption: DE Derek Barnett, DT Kyle Phillips, WR Josh Malone, WR Jauan Jennings, DB Rashaan Gaulden, OG Jashon Robertson and P Trevor Daniel, all mid-state guys.
Q: What two players not named Josh Dobbs or Derek Barnett should Nebraska be worried about?
Griffith: Running back Alvin Kamara can be dangerous as a runner or a receiver coming out of the backfield. He’ll be wearing a knee brace, but don’t be fooled — it hasn’t seemed to slow him down or limit his mobility. Freshman receiver Tyler Byrd is the fastest player on the team, and UT likes to hand him the ball on end-arounds or throw quick passes to him in space. If reports are true that middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland is once again as healthy as he was prior to a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss six weeks and brought him back at less than 100 percent in November, you could see No. 34 on a blitz or two.
Q: Is Tennessee’s run defense really that bad? Nebraska has not been able to run on anyone — will the Huskers be able to run on the Vols?
Griffith: The Vols are down four scholarship defensive tackles due to injuries/attrition, but recently Jonathan Kongbo, the nation’s No. 1 JUCO player in last year’s class, moved inside from end. Kongbo is a 6-foot-6, 284-pound specimen. He’ll pair with Kendal Vickers inside. Tennessee doesn’t have much depth, so if the Huskers can keep them on the field on sustained drives the run game could be susceptible, but not to the extent it was in November when the team was worn down and out.
Q: What’s one thing Nebraska has to do to beat Tennessee?
Griffith: Force turnovers. The Vols have been guilty of beating themselves, as evidenced by their 7-turnover game in a 45-38 double OT loss to Texas A&M in November. A late fumble against Vanderbilt was the turning point in that game, as well. Against South Carolina a botched handoff to a freshman was key in a 24-21 loss.
Q: Will Butch Jones get fired if Nebraska wins?
Griffith: No, Jones has equaled or exceeded his regular-season win total from one season to the next at every school he’s been head coach over the past 10 years. The Vols took some positive steps this season, getting back in the Top 10 for the first time since 2007, snapping an 11-year losing streak to Florida and largely staying out of the headlines for off-field issues. Next year will be an important season for Jones to prove he can keep moving the program forward. Most brass give him a pass for this season, as UT had 19 players who started a game miss at least one game due to injury.