South Alabama (2-1) at Tennessee (2-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 28, 12:21 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Neyland Stadium (102,455) -- Knoxville, Tennessee. Television: SEC Network, MSG, ESPN3.com. Home Record: USA 1-1, UT 2-0. Away Record: USA 1-0, UT 0-2. Neutral Record: USA 0-0, UT 0-0. Conference Record: USA 1-0, UT 0-1. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Coming off back-to-back road losses against nationally-ranked foes, the Tennessee Volunteers return home for a non-conference clash with the South Alabama Jaguars on Saturday afternoon.
After winning just two games during its inaugural FBS campaign in 2012, South Alabama has already matched that total this season after just three contests. The Jaguars had a disappointing defeat in their opener against FCS opponent Southern Utah (22-21), but since then they have captured victories over Tulane (41-39), and Western Kentucky (31-24) in their Sun Belt Conference opener on Sept. 14.
The Butch Jones era of Tennessee football got off to a flying start after the team blew out Austin Peay (45-0) and WKU (52-20) in the first two weeks of the season. The Vols then departed on a two-game road trip, and after getting trounced by Oregon (59-14) on Sept. 14, they fell to SEC rival Florida last weekend, 31-17, in a game where they committed six turnovers. The squad's difficult schedule picks back up in October with bouts against Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, all of which are currently ranked in the top-12.
The Vols and the Jaguars have never before met on the football field.
The South Alabama offense ranks in middle of the pack in the Sun Belt both in terms of yardage (404.7 ypg) and scoring (31.0 ppg). Its efficiency could use some improvement, as it converts less than 40 percent of its third downs and has scored touchdowns on just 58 percent of its trips to the red zone.
Ross Metheny has been impressive under center, completing greater than 67 percent of his pass attempts for 595 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He has a nose for the end zone on the ground, adding three rushing scores.
Jay Jones leads the team with 205 yards on 31 carries (6.6 ypg) while crossing the goal line once. Brandon Bridge has also accumulated more than six yards per rush by turning 15 attempts into 101 yards.
Wes Saxton (185 yards), Shavarez Smith (181 yards TD), Jereme Jones (144 yards, TD) and Danny Woodson (129 yards, TD) give the Jaguars one of the deepest receiving corps in their league.
On the surface, the Jaguars defense (28.3 ppg, 372.0 ypg) has not stood out, but the unit is good enough to rank first in the Sun Belt in total defense and second in scoring defense.
After missing the first two games of the season, Tyrell Pearson returned against WKU and picked off two passes to earn SBC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Qudarius Ford and Enrique Williams both have 26 tackles to lead the team, while Romelle Jones has 3.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks.
Although the Tennessee offense (32.0 ppg) experienced such a strong start to the season, its production has tapered off greatly as the competition improved, scoring 17 points or less in back-to-back games. The unit ranks last in the SEC in total offense (341.2 ypg).
Freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman had his first career start versus Florida last Saturday, but his nightmarish afternoon ended after going just 4-of-11 for five yards and two interceptions. Justin Worley too struggled against the Gators (10-of-23, 149 yards, TD, two INTs), but he at least has twice as many touchdowns (six) as picks (three) this season, while Peterman has yet to score.
The strength of the unit comes from the running game, as Rajion Neal (299 yards, four TDs) and Marlin Lane (214 yards, three TDs) are both used to great effect, although the duo gained only 58 combined yards versus Florida.
Marquez North is the only player with double-digit receptions, hauling in 12 passes for 112 yards. Alton Howard (112 yards) and Brendan Downs (22 yards) each have a pair of touchdown catches.
Tennessee's defense has allowed 27.5 ppg and 418.2 ypg on the season, and that's factoring in a contest at Oregon (59 points allowed). The unit managed to hold Florida in check last week despite the offense handing the Gators outstanding field position all afternoon.
With three more takeaways against UF, the Vols' season total is up to 12 (eight INTs, four fumble recoveries), third-most in the country. Brian Randolph has a pair of picks to go with 25 tackles, while Cameron Sutton has an interception and a fumble recovery. A.J. Johnson, a Preseason First Team All-SEC selection at linebacker, has a team-high 27 stops.
South Alabama is vastly improved from a season ago, and its sneaky good defense could cause problems for the Vols and their erratic quarterback play, but after a couple of treacherous road games, Tennessee will relish the opportunity of playing an unranked team at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tennessee 27, South Alabama 17
09/25 10:34:45 ET