Tennessee expecting tough test from Arkansas State
Former North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson is Arkansas State's fifth coach in the last five years. He has taken over a program that has won at least a share of the Sun Belt title each of the last three seasons.
Jones has made sure Tennessee's aware of Arkansas State's recent history before the Red Wolves' Saturday visit to Neyland Stadium. Both teams are coming off season-opening victories.
''Their players expect to win no matter who the head coach has been,'' Jones said. ''They win and they go to bowl games. If you look at their body of work over a period of time, it has been very, very impressive.''
Arkansas State has been a consistent winner, but it hasn't beaten a team from a Power 5 conference since an 18-14 victory over Texas A&M in 2008. The Red Wolves played two SEC teams last year and fell 38-9 at Auburn and 41-19 at Missouri.
''We've got to play with tremendous effort,'' Anderson said. ''That's going to have to alleviate some of the mismatches that we're going to have physically. We're going to have to play harder than they do. We've got to play harder and longer than they do throughout the course of the game. We've got to let tempo play a factor and conditioning play a factor.''
Arkansas State's Fredi Knighten is the type of mobile quarterback who often gave the Volunteers problems last season. Knighten rushed for 104 yards, threw for 219 yards and also had a 45-yard catch last week while directing Arkansas State's fast-paced, no-huddle offense in a 37-10 victory over Montana State.
''When he runs, I can clearly see he's devastating,'' Tennessee cornerback Justin Coleman said. ''He can do some damage to a defense.''
The Volunteers struggled against mobile quarterbacks such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Auburn's Nick Marshall last season, but they shut down Chuckie Keeton in a season-opening 38-7 rout of Utah State. Tennessee picked off two of Keeton's passes and limited the versatile senior to 12 yards on eight carries.
Tennessee's young roster also must avoid looking ahead to a Sept. 13 game at No. 4 Oklahoma. In its season opener, Tennessee played 21 true freshmen, the most any Football Bowl Subdivision team.
Here are five things to watch when Tennessee hosts Arkansas State.
YOUNG LINES: Both teams have inexperienced offensive lines. Tennessee's offensive linemen entered the season with only six combined starts, the fewest of any Football Bowl Subdivision team. Arkansas State's offensive linemen began the year with 20 combined starts, the third-fewest behind only Tennessee and Ohio State. Tennessee's line now must replace left tackle Jacob Gilliam, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Utah State.
KICKING ISSUES: Jones said Tennessee's kicking position remained up for grabs after freshman Aaron Medley made a 36-yard field goal but missed a 41-yarder against Utah State. Arkansas State has an excellent combination kicker-punter in Luke Ferguson, who made all three of his field-goal attempts and averaged 48.5 yards per punt against Montana State. Jones said Ferguson ''may be the best punter I've seen in a very, very long time.''
VOLS' RUNNING ISSUES: Tennessee rushed for only 110 yards on 39 carries against Utah State and didn't have a single run from scrimmage of over nine yards. Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd now must try to find running room against an Arkansas State defense that allowed only 86 yards on 44 carries in its opener.
WORLEY'S ENCORE: Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley was outstanding against Utah State, as set a career high for completions and went 27 of 38 for 273 yards with three touchdown passes. Worley connected to 10 different receivers. Arkansas State won't have a chance of winning if it allows Worley to match that production this week.
DUELING LINEBACKERS: Each team has an all-conference linebacker leading its defense. Tennessee's A.J. Johnson earned all-SEC honors last season and has 333 career tackles. Arkansas State's Qushaun Lee, an all-Sun Belt selection in 2013, has 288 career tackles and led the Sun Belt with 134 stops last year. Johnson and Lee both had interceptions in their season openers.