By Frank Gale
Team #117 will welcome Western Kentucky and ex-SEC Head Coach Bobby Petrino to Neyland Stadium for game two. Unlike last weekend's opening game victory against an undermanned Austin Peay team, this contest should provide a few answers to lingering concerns of the Big Orange Nation.
The Vols ran the ball at will last week with Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane in the first half, whether that trend continues will go a long way in determining which team emerges victorious from tomorrow’s game. While the offense should be able to move the ball on the Hilltoppers, the defense will be tested by a decent offense, some of which could get a look at the next level.
It is looking more and more that linebacker Curt Maggitt might be back for this game. That will probably be a game time decision, along with Jacques Smith, who had the pin removed from his broken thumb earlier this week. The defense, all of a sudden, is dramatically improved if they are cleared to play.
The Vols escaped last week’s game with no injuries, but then lost Devrin Young during practice when he broke his hand. He will be gone 4-6 weeks. Alton “Pig” Howard and Jonathon Johnson will be the immediate options at slot receiver.
The Vols are favored in this game by just under two touchdowns. Coach Petrino brings a collegiate coaching record of 76-26 to Neyland for the 12:21 p.m. EDT kickoff. He is 1-0 in games involving Tennessee. That one victory came two years ago at Arkansas. After defeating in-state rival Kentucky, Western Kentucky will be looking to pull off a second upset of an SEC team in successive weeks.
Butch Jones was able to win his initial game as the Vols head coach and also put victory number 800 in the books for the program. Despite the sub standard competition, last week’s contest had many positives. No penalties on offense with a new staff and offense, discipline both on the field and the sidelines. All this, plus Coach Jones played 10 true freshmen and eight red-shirt freshmen. Any recruit on the fence about wanting to play at Tennessee certainly has to be happy that so many freshmen are getting on the field.
This week at practice linebacker A.J. Johnson moved to the other side of the ball and took some snaps on offense. Last year, he was used in short yardage situations that the Vols referred to as "The Beast” formation. Johnson scored six touchdowns then and he might need to help again, especially in short yardage situations.
Now that the Vols have softened up Austin Peay, Vanderbilt will entertain them in Nashville tomorrow evening. No crazy finishes for Jim Butler’s ‘Dores this week. The only question is whether James Franklin will show the same class as Butch Jones and not run up the score this weekend? Don’t count on it.
Regal theaters will be showing a 30 second public service announcement for the Pat Summitt Foundation nationwide during the month of September. Pat is joined by UT legends Peyton Manning and Kara Lawson to bring awareness to the fight against Alzheimer’s and support for her foundation.
Tomorrow will be an early start for those making their way to Neyland Stadium. After the dust settles in what should be a competitive game, expect to hear "Rocky Top" echoing through the stadium as the Big Orange leaves the field undefeated. Go Vols!!!!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)