Only one more sleep until Nebraska plays the last game of the 2016 season against the Tennessee Volunteers in the Music City Bowl.
To discover more of the inside poop on our opponent, we asked our sister Tennessee site Rocky Top Talk if they’d answer some questions for us. We got those answers from Will Shelton. Thank you Will!
I apologize for not asking any questions about being “Champions of Life”. I am dumb.
1. Describe Tennessee's relationship with Butch Jones in one word.
[Jon - HAHAHAHAHA. Excellent choice.
(especially of a task, process, or journey) requiring considerable effort and time.
(especially of speech or writing style) showing obvious signs of effort and lacking in fluency.]
2. What are your biggest concerns coming into this game?
There is some question of motivation after the Vols blew the SEC East and then the Sugar Bowl down the stretch, but on the field everything is about Tennessee's defense. Injuries have been one of the year's most significant stories; among many others Tennessee lost three starting defensive tackles and All-SEC linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, so stopping the run has been a major issue.
Then when the Vols finally looked like they were making progress there, Vanderbilt had 12.2 yards per attempt through the air in a crushing loss for Tennessee. Right now there are legitimate questions about Tennessee's ability to stop anyone.
3. Nebraska starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong is most likely out, as is our top receiver Jordan Westerkamp and our top defender Nate Gerry. How much does that boost your confidence?
It helps, but Ryker Fyfe qualifies as "anyone" and Tennessee has already been hurt by quarterbacks from South Carolina and Vanderbilt who are probably comparable. Losing Gerry is one more feather in the cap of Tennessee's offense though, and that side of the ball has been humming in the last four games.
I think the existing mindsets on both sides of the ball are so loud for Tennessee right now the injuries for Nebraska are more background noise.
4. Can Tennessee's defense rebound from the performance in their last three games where they gave up 110 points total and 661 yards per game?
This is why I'm sure it sounds like all I'm talking about is the defense. We wrote earlier in the week we might rather lose this game 17-16 than win it 52-49; that would at least be a sign of progress.
5. How excited are players/fans about playing a bowl game in-state?
Tennessee has only been in the Music City Bowl once and sold it out in 2010. In an obvious rebuilding year as was the case then, it's a great landing spot: Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in America, Nissan Stadium is a short walk from a fun downtown area, and it's obviously accessible for Tennessee fans.
But in a year that was supposed to be the cash-in for Butch Jones and produce Tennessee's first division title since 2007, and especially a year that started 5-0 with wins over the two other traditional powers in the SEC East?
This ain't where we thought we'd be. And with the Sugar Bowl required to take the highest-ranked non-playoff SEC team, that's where we were headed up 10 on Vanderbilt in the third quarter. And now we're here. So, yeah.
I'm assuming the defense improves just enough for Tennessee to win, because I don't see how it can be much worse. Motivation may be an issue but this offense was so good late, I think they'll find enough points out there with enough Nebraska players out.
I've got Tennessee 37-31.