Tennessee (3-6, 0-5) will look for to extend their newly found winning streak Saturday as Ole Miss (4-5, 1-4) come to town for Homecoming.
This game will serve as a start to a three-game SEC stretch against opponents that the Vols have had a large amount of success against. The Vols and Rebels have played 63 games, with UT holding the series lead at 43-19-1. However, last year, Ole Miss racked up 42 points in a decisive victory in Oxford.
But this year is a different game. Dexter McCluster, the Rebels’ biggest contributor to last year’s victory, has left the Rebels and the Vols are coming into this game hot from a 50-14 rout of Memphis.
The story of the Memphis game was true freshman quarterback Tyler Bray. Bray, who made his first career start Saturday, racked up 308 passing yards and five touchdowns in the first half alone.
“It was exciting,” Bray said of the game. “Just tried to keep calm as usual and just stayed relaxed and just let the rest of the guys on the field help me out.”
On offense, the Vols will look to rely not only on the emerging Bray, but also a young, fast group of recievers. Led by seniors Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore, the receiving corps has recently been helped by the development of freshmen wide outs Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter.
“It hurt us early in the year when Gerald (Jones) was out and the freshmen weren’t ready,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “Everybody was saying, ‘What’s wrong with third down?’ Well, the freshmen weren’t ready. I think since then, it’s been good.”
And if all else fails, the Vols can count on the steady playing of running back Tauren Poole, who currently ranks fifth in the SEC with 729 rushing yards on the season.
As for defense, besides the condition of Ole Miss’ starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who is recovering from a concussion, Dooley put things simple.
“Here, these guys run a bunch of formations,” Dooley said. “There’s no real continuity in their plays. So you have to play sound, good football across the board and good gap control.”
The Vols enter Saturday with the hopes of a bowl game resting squarely on the next three games, simply put “win out and they’re in.” But Dooley cautioned against looking ahead to December, citing the fact that his team has yet to win a conference game.
“We’re 0-5,” Dooley said. “I’m not going to sit here and say that nobody should think about the bowl game, because that’s human nature. But we’re not going to get to a bowl game if we don’t beat Ole Miss. That’s all our mind should be on. I think the biggest thing is let’s go out there and put together a complete game against an SEC opponent. We haven’t done that.”
Regardless of records, this game is expected to be a hard-fought, close game between two SEC teams looking to make the best of the last month of the season.
“There is a lot to play for,” Nutt said. “It’s about how you finish in November. We will have their best, there is no doubt in my mind, and we are going to give them our best.”
Kickoff is at noon on CBS.