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Oklahoma Sooners Opponent Q&A With Rocky Top Talk

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The Sooners are traveling to Knoxville for one of the Vols biggest home games in nearly a decade.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

With both schools having a lot to prove, and a lot to lose, on Saturday night in Knoxville, we are sitting and anxiously awaiting kickoff between Oklahoma and Tennessee. For the Vols it's the chance to show that they are a program that is once again rising and for the Sooners it's the opportunity to show that last season was an anomaly and that OU is still very much back as one of the premier teams in the Big 12.

To help us get a better perspective of the Volunteers we reached out to Rock Top Talk's Will Shelton. CCM's Donnie Hazlewood participated in their podcast and Will was more than gracious to answer our questions. You can also read my side of the Q&A there.

Crimson & Cream Machine - Oklahoma at Tennessee! This is a huge game to say the least but what specifically does it mean for the Volunteers in terms of the rise of the program and national recognition.

Rocky Top Talk - A win Saturday night would be without question Tennessee's biggest since claiming the SEC East in 2007. The Vols have had a number of shots at big-time foes since then between Oregon, Oklahoma, the annual date with Alabama and the rigors of the SEC. But this is only the second time in the last eight years the Vols come into one of these games ranked themselves; it feels like Tennessee's best chance to win one not because of who Oklahoma is, but because of who we hope Tennessee has started being again. It's by no means make or break for Butch Jones, but it is his first legitimate opportunity to win a game like this. And for Tennessee it's the best opportunity yet to separate the past and the present, giving fans a chance to believe everything negative from Phillip Fulmer's end through Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley to now is over. It's a significant opportunity.

CCM - The first thing that stands out from Tennessee's opener was the 433 passing yards from Bowling Green. Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield is coming off a record-setting performance in the season opener, talk to us about the Vols defense and what they need to do to improve against the pass this week.

RTT - The Vols have a soon-to-be NFL corner in Cameron Sutton, but lost Rashaan Gaulden for the year in fall camp who would have been the starter at nickel, and were without (and may still be without) Justin Martin, a junior college transfer expected to step in and play right away at corner. That led to Bowling Green repeatedly throwing over corners who weren't Sutton, taking advantage of a number of different players who probably would have seen less playing time if everyone was healthy. Tennessee also lost starting strong safety LaDarrell McNeil to a neck injury in camp, had his backup Todd Kelly out with an infection after having his tonsils removed (he's back this week), and had defensive backs coach Willie Martinez suspended for one game due to a recruiting violation. If it sounds like easy excuses for 433 passing yards allowed...well, we hope so. I think we'll find out right away if these were easy fixes or major problems. The Vols were vanilla in the front seven and rarely blitzed Bowling Green, hoping to get sufficient pressure from just the front four, and that didn't really happen either. There's a chance much of this can be adjusted by Saturday, but just as much of a chance Tennessee has legitimate, exploitable issues in the secondary.

CCM - On the flip-side, Tennessee's rushing attack was pretty impressive with Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd. Are these guys similar in running style or do they have unique qualities?

RTT - They're different, in part due to Hurd just being different from most backs because he's so tall. He's listed at 6'4" 240, which means he gained an inch and 13 pounds since the last time you saw him. He can hit like you'd think, but he also runs smoother than anyone that size has any right to. Kamara is the speed back, an Alabama signee who didn't work out in Tuscaloosa and Tennessee fans are thankful. The Vols ran it 66 times last week, so having two backs plus Josh Dobbs really helps balance the load Butch Jones wants for his ground game.

CCM - The quarterbacks are different in this year's game for both teams. Tell us about Joshua Dobbs, what he brings to the table, and how he'll be a different challenge for Oklahoma's offense than last season.

RTT - Justin Worley won the job in fall camp last year by being more accurate according to reports, but as a pocket passer he wasn't an ideal fit for Tennessee's brand new offensive line, and it certainly showed in Norman. When Worley was lost for the year in October, Dobbs brought a spark and a change in play. In his first start of 2014 he became the first Tennessee quarterback to run for 100+ yards; you can expect around 15 carries from him. He's more instinctive than outright fast; fans watching at home can expect to hear early and often about his degree in aerospace engineering. He's become more accurate as time has progressed, but the biggest difference in Tennessee's offense with Dobbs is the pace at which they play, mirroring what Auburn, Baylor, etc really want to do. I think the Vols will continue to want to push most of their production through Hurd and Kamara, but Dobbs is becoming a complete quarterback and can hurt defenses in a number of ways.

CCM - Give us the names of a couple of guys on either side of the ball that we need to be aware of and why.

RTT - Other than who we've mentioned, watch for Pig Howard as a slot receiver. On a deep depth chart he's been Dobbs' favorite receiver in the past, and is coming back from a one game suspension. Tight end Ethan Wolf didn't play against the Sooners last year, but caught a pair of touchdown passes last week. On defense, other than Cameron Sutton at corner, it's Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt at defensive end. Maggitt plays a hybrid DE/LB role and is the team's senior leader. Barnett was in just his third college game last year at Norman, but became Tennessee best pass rusher and perhaps its most talented player. They combined for 21 sacks and 35 tackles for loss last year; the Vols will look to exploit Oklahoma's young tackles with these two.

CCM - Prediction time! Tell us how you see this game shaking out in Knoxville.

RTT - I think this is going to be a great game. You've got more or less an even line in Vegas, two incredibly proud football schools, and a Tennessee crowd that will be hungry for the first win of this kind in eight years. For that reason, in a game so even, I'm taking Oklahoma simply because many of the Sooners involved have been in and won games like this before, and done so away from Norman. (I think it's also because in my mind the Vols would still be a little better off being an underdog in a game like this instead of being viewed on even footing they haven't yet earned.) I think Tennessee is good enough to win this game, but I'll take Oklahoma's experience on this day, in hopes that it teaches the Vols how to win the next time one of these rolls around in the SEC. I'll go Sooners 38 Vols 31.