The Oklahoma Sooners play host to the the Tennessee Volunteers as they make the journey to Norman. With bigger, faster, and stronger athletes this contest marks the first measuring stick for both teams.
Justin Worley & Marquez North vs Zack Sanchez & The Secondary
For the second week in a row, the Oklahoma secondary must shut down a worthy passing attack led by Justin Worley. With poise and solid decision making in the pocket, this kid provides a much needed rally point for a young UT team. In the first two games of the season, Worley has completed 64.5% of his pass attempts collecting five touchdowns to a single interception. Although the veteran Tennessee quarterback seems to lack consistent big play ability, Worley continues to play with confidence as the game slows down for him.
"It goes back to my confidence level, my confidence in (the receivers) and my confidence in our whole offensive scheme." - Justin Worley via ESPN
The top target on this squad remains sophomore receiver Marquez North after the news of Von Pearson's injury. However, Head Coach Butch Jones conveyed to the media that while the injury is a setback, receiver is one position the Vols possess depth at.
"...the way I look at it is it's another individual's opportunity to step up. It's more reps for Josh Malone. It's more reps for Josh Smith. It's more reps for Jason Croom. It's more reps for Alton Howard." - Butch Jones
Currently, the air raid of Tennessee racks up 260 yards per game. The Sooner defense provides a great preview of what's to come before UT faces Georgia two weeks from Saturday.
On the others side of things, the Oklahoma Sooners received a bit of good news. Zack Sanchez, who was injured against Tulsa leaving the game in a sling, is expected to play.
"I got a helmet right to the top of my shoulder, where the most padding is on my shoulder pad," Sanchez said Tuesday. "It's kind of a freak thing. I got a little sprain in my shoulder. Nothing serious, nothing major at all." - Zack Sanchez via NewsOK
But, that does not mean the task becomes easy.
"It's SEC athletes They're fast. They've got a big receiver. They've got a shifty receiver. Their backs are good. They've got a really huge back. They've got guys that are athletic across the field, and a quarterback who likes to throw it. We're going to get tested." - Zack Sanchez via OU Sports Extra
A lock down type cornerback, Sanchez likely draws the 6-4 221 pound North more often than not. If the Sooners want to put some distance between them and their opponent, the best option is to make Tennessee beat them on the ground. How much will the injury affect the standout corner for Oklahoma?
Oklahoma's Receivers vs A.J. Johnson & Space
The Sooners have yet to see a talent like A.J. Johnson lined up against them in a game situation. The Tennessee linebacker landed himself on the preseason All-American list after opting to come back for a senior season.
Needless to say, with a talent like Johnson in the middle of the "Orange Swarm," runs like Trevor Knight turned against Tulsa become less likely. Passes over the middle require a smaller window of opportunity as space proves more difficult to find.
With a largely unproven receiving group, finding separation and space will be of utmost importance to keep Oklahoma from being more or less one dimensional.
Oklahoma's Speedy & Athletic Defensive Line vs Tennessee's Young & Shuffled Offensive Line
There is no denying that Charles Tapper and Eric Striker have not been as productive as some fans expected up to this point. Yet, there may be a reason.
Tapper continues to find himself in a rotation with many of the younger guys. Sharing snaps with the younger guys does two things: 1) it grooms the next generation of defensive lineman by giving them much needed experience and 2) it provides fresh legs throughout the entirety of the game.
As for Striker, he continues dropping into coverage against the slot receiver taking him off the line of scrimmage. Regardless, the experience and talent poses a real threat to a UT O-Line who has already given up four sacks on the season.
It's a tough spot for an offensive line that has been continuously shuffled since the spring and possesses zero returning starters from 2013.
"Yeah, you know, again, we're moving individuals around, just trying to find the best five that can play winning football for us, and protect the quarterback and [help us] run the football. I'll go back, I'll watch the video, but I like the group. I like their work ethic. We just have to be tougher, you know? We have to be tougher mentally, we have to be tougher physically. Some of that's developed over time with everything that you do. But I've said it, and we'll continue to be a work in progress from now all the way to the end of the season." - Butch Jones via CBS Sports
An even more glaring issue lies in the fact that neither Jalen Hurd nor Marlin Lane average more than 3.96 yards per carry. With 139 yards on the ground per game, ranking 11th in the SEC, the Vols rushing attack remains inconsistent at best. However, the expectation for the duo likely continues with a rotation of sorts.
"We just play who is running the ball well, and we thought Jalen gave us a great opportunity. I thought Jalen got some tough yardage. I thought he hit the hole. Jalen runs hard." - Butch Jones
Getting an initial push to open running lanes has happened against the Sooners in their first two games. Tennessee will need to grow up quickly if they hope to have much better success on the ground as well as at keeping Worley upright than they have in the past two games.