CFB preview: No. 15 Tennessee vs. Ohio
Tennessee has been plagued by slow starts this season while displaying an opportunistic nature.
Now the No. 15 Volunteers want to slam the door shut on Ohio's breakthrough opportunity.
Tennessee takes aim at a 3-0 start when it hosts the Bobcats on Saturday in a contest set to air on the SEC Network.
The Volunteers have experienced back-to-back poor opening quarters while recording their two wins. They had to rally to beat Appalachian State in overtime in their season opener before recovering five fumbles to knock off Virginia Tech in the "Battle at Bristol."
Meanwhile, Ohio (1-1) is shooting to beat a ranked team for the first time.
That's no misprint -- the Bobcats are looking to spring an attention-grabbing upset for the initial time in the program's 122-year history.
"I don't have a goal to go out and beat a ranked football team," Bobcats coach Frank Solich said at a press conference. "My goal is to win every game, and if you do the best you can with that, hopefully along the way you have won your share of games and you have pulled off some upsets.
"Although, we never walk on the field feeling we are an underdog, we expect to win every football game and I think most college teams and most coaches approach it that way."
Ohio certainly will be the underdogs when they arrive at Neyland Stadium but caught Tennessee's attention by posting a solid 37-21 victory over Kansas last Saturday. The Bobcats rolled up 329 rushing yards and maintained possession for 43 minutes, 38 seconds.
"They also held Kansas to 26 rushing yards," Volunteers coach Butch Jones said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. It is a week-to-week season and we have to make that considerable progress that we made from week one to week two into week three as we move forward."
Jones will be expecting his team to start faster against the Bobcats. He said he addressed the sluggishness with the players and hopes they will respond.
Senior defensive end Corey Vereen is mystified by the glacier-like openings.
"I couldn't really put my finger on it. We talk about starting fast day in and day out in practice and everything," Vereen said. "So basically what we try to do is we try to stay more relaxed this time around and just know what we came to do in the game."
Tennessee will be shorthanded on the defensive side as sophomore middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. and senior defensive end LaTroy Lewis will both miss the game with ankle injuries.
Kirkland leads the Volunteers with 16 tackles while Lewis has 10 stops.
Sophomore free safety Micah Abernathy set a school record by recovering three fumble recoveries in the 45-24 victory over Virginia Tech.
Offensively, senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs is completing just 54.2 percent of his passes. He has thrown for 283 yards and four touchdowns against two interceptions.
Junior running back Jalen Hurd has rushed for 209 yards and one score.
Ohio senior quarterback Greg Windham has passed for 560 yards and five touchdowns while being intercepted once. He has also rushed for 183 yards, second on the squad behind junior tailback Dorian Brown (186).
The Bobcats' defense is led by senior defensive end Tarell Basham (two sacks), who became the school's record-holder when he posted career sack No. 20 against Kansas.
"It feels great to have the all-time sack record, to know that all my hard work is showing," Basham said. "I'm not comfortable at all, though. I'm still going to go out there and fight to get those sacks. Hopefully next week we can set another record."
Basham was referring to the school's dubious history against Top 25 teams. The Volunteers have been briefed about that fact and insist they won't be taking the Bobcats lightly.
"Ohio is a veteran team and it's a noon (ET) kickoff, so we need to start fast and be ready to go from the get-go," Dobbs said. "But this is the most important game on our schedule because it's the next game. There's no looking ahead. We're just locked in on the task at hand and getting ready for this Saturday."
Ohio is 2-11 all-time against current SEC programs. The Bobcats lost 34-23 at Tennessee in 2009 in the lone previous meeting between the schools.