Western Kentucky at Tennessee
Saturday, 12:21 p.m. ET
Neyland Stadium(102,455) . Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network (106.5 FM Chattanooga)
TV: SEC Network
Series Record: Tennessee leads 1-0
Why Saturday is important
The Butch Jones era technically began last week against Austin Peay, but in reality, this is the first on-field test of any significance for Jones and his first team at Tennessee. In most cases an SEC squad should roll right over a Sun Belt squad. Saturday likely won’t be one of those times. Tennessee is in full rebuilding mode and Western Kentucky brings a team to Knoxville with multiple NFL prospects coached by one of the best offensive minds in all of football, Bobby Petrino. If Tennessee is to attain some of its goals, such as a winning season and a bowl, Saturday’s game is close to a must-win scenario for Tennessee.
Three things to know about Western Kentucky
Few programs in the nation have progressed like the Hilltoppers over the past few seasons. The long-time FCS power was just 2-22 in its first two seasons (2008-09) of FBS competition. That stretch included a 63-7 loss at Neyland Stadium in 2009. After one more 2-10 campaign in 2010, the talent began improving and the wins started coming. In 2011 they were 7-5, but not invited to a bowl game. Their 7-5 regular season campaign in 2012 was good enough to receive an invitation to the Little Caesar’s Bowl, the first bowl trip in program history. . Former coach Willie Taggart moved on to South Florida and in came Petrino. Perhaps some of the larger programs nationally (such as UT) passed him over due to off-the-field issues, but WKU landed one of the most respected on-field minds in the nation. . His first game back was memorable. WKU knocked off Kentucky 35-26 on a neutral-field game played in Nashville. The Hilltoppers piled up nearly 500 yards of total offense in the win.
What you should know about Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino
The former head coach at Louisville, the Atlanta Falcons and Arkansas left the game in the spring of 2012 after a scandal at Arkansas got him dismissed from the Razorbacks’ program. After a one-year sabbatical, he’s back. . He led some of the most prolific offenses in the nation at Louisville and Arkansas. . Petrino boasts an impressive 76-26 all-time college record, including a 34-17 mark (17-15 SEC) during his time at Arkansas. . As genius as he’s been on the field, he’s been equally scrutinized off it. Known as somewhat of a job hopper, he regularly had his name linked to other jobs while he was at Louisville before taking the Falcons job in 2007. After a disastrous 3-10 start to the 2007 season in Atlanta, he bolted for Arkansas, reportedly without even telling his team face-to-face. . But regardless of off-the-field incidents, few deny he’s one of the best offensive coaches around. He mixes formations, tempos, has a balanced approach and is a master at creating mismatches in the passing game
Tennessee player to watch
True freshman cornerback Cameron Sutton will be in the crosshairs on Saturday. Petrino looks to expose weaknesses and, fair or not, Sutton will be targeted in his first game ever against an FBS opponent. UT coaches have praised his mental toughness and his ability to bounce back after giving up bad plays. That will likely be needed at some point either this week or in the coming games. He could also be a factor in the return game with Devrin Young (hand) out.
Western Kentucky player to watch
Petrino is generally associated with great passing attacks, but he likes to run as well and he’s got a solid back in senior Antonio Andrews. Ranked as the 11th best running back prospect for the 2014 NFL draft by CBSSports.com, Andrews rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries against Kentucky. He did, however, cough up two fumbles – mistakes he’ll be looking to atone for this week.
Random facts to impress your friends
Tennessee won its 800th game last week. . A win this week would give UT its 12th consecutive win over a non-conference opponent, dating back to September of 2010. A win would also give UT its 14th straight win over non-BCS conference foes. . Tennessee lost to Petrino when he was the head coach at Arkansas in 2011 by a score of 49-7. Justin Worley started that game for Tennessee as a fill-in for the injured Tyler Bray. . At least four of UT’s coaches – Jones, John Jancek, Willie Martinez and Tommy Thigpen – have faced Petrino in the past. . Tennessee’s crowd of 97,169 last week was the fourth-largest turnout in the country and the largest in the SEC. . Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni was WKU’s offensive coordinator in 2011. . This will be Jones’ first ever game against WKU.
Jones on the importance of Week 2: “The greatest growth and development occur from week one to week two and so obviously this week of preparation is absolutely critical.”
The Vols will win if …
They utilize their advantage at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they should be able to run the ball well enough to stay on the field and open up some opportunities in the passing game. On defense, their front seven should do enough to keep Petrino and the offense from picking apart the secondary. If both of those things happen, UT has a good chance to come out on top, possibly by a comfortable margin.
The Vols will lose if …
They make too many mental errors. Tennessee has a talent edge, albeit not a huge one, so the quickest way to let this game slip away would be to turn the ball over, bust on assignments or commit unnecessary penalties. Petrino will make the Vols pay if they’re not fundamentally sound this week. They showed discipline in the opener, but the game will be faster and more pressure packed this week.
Unofficial Tennessee injury report:
Out: WR Devrin Young, CB Michael Williams, DE Corey Vereen, TE Alex Ellis, TE Justin Meredith, CB Riyahd Jones, LB Raiques Crump, WR Ryan Jenkins, DE Jacques Smith
Questionable: OL Dylan Wiesman
Probable: LB Curt Maggitt
Tennessee 31, Western Kentucky 21
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga