The Tennessee Volunteers face-off against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Music City Bowl on December 30 at 3:30 P.M Eastern time. The game pits two teams that saw their high hopes crumble over the final month and half of their respective seasons. Tennessee found itself ranked no. 9 in the AP poll before consecutive losses to Texas A&M and Alabama derailed the Vols’s playoff hopes. Likewise, Nebraska also found itself in the top 10 in late October before a loss to Wisconsin and a thumping by Ohio State sent the Cornhuskers into a free fall. The Music City Bowl gives both teams a chance to end the year on a high note and create much needed momentum headed into 2017. Without further ado, let’s get to the predictions!
The Vols struggled on offense against good teams in 2017. Quarterback Josh Dobbs played extremely well against bad to middling teams this season. However, he struggled mightily against Alabama (as did the whole team) and for long stretches against Georgia, Florida, and Vanderbilt. The running game boasts tremendous talent with Alvin Kamara and John Kelly, but offensive line struggles marred their consistency. Running lanes never materialize far too often and leave the team behind the chains. This puts too much pressure on Dobbs to complete intermediate passes that are not his strength.
Having said this, the Vols proved in the previous two bowl games they possess more speed and athleticism than middle-of-the-pack Big 10 teams. I expect the Vols to struggle on offense at the start of the game, but impose their will as the game lengthens. The physical ability of Josh Malone and JaJaun Jennings will be the difference here as both receivers will have significant size advantages.
Derek Barnett‘s pursuit of Reggie White’s career sack record is the story here. Barnett tied White at 32 career sacks with a sack just before halftime of the Vanderbilt game. It would be a shock if Barnett failed to record a sack in the Music City Bowl. Big Orange fans need to watch and appreciate Barnett tomorrow as he is likely to announce his pro decision after the game. Barnett’s stats and desire prove he is one of the best to ever put on orange.
Elsewhere on defense, the Vols will continue to struggle. An almost completely healthy Cam Sutton helps, but the defense never recovered from losing Jalen Reeves-Maybin. The defensive line struggled to stop the run after injuries and dismissals decimated the unit. I expect Nebraska to rack up yards and put up points effectively.
Special Teams and Coaching
Aaron Medley struggled again this season on long field goals and in big situations. However, it must be said that the game winner at South Carolina was too long and a bad coaching decision. Vols fan hope the game does not hinge on Medley’s leg. Trevor Daniel gives the Vols a big boost as he blossomed into one of the game’s best punters. The Vols should win the field position battle with Daniel on their side. The loss of Evan Berry hurts Tennessee as it takes away one of their biggest weapons. When healthy, Berry is the best returner in the NCAA.
The coaching staff for the Vols remains under heavy pressure. Fans have long grown tired of the predictable offense under Mike Debord. Butch Jones is also feeling the wrath of the fan base after a hugely disappointing loss to Vandy took the Vols out of Sugar Bowl consideration. Jones needs a good day to build momentum and rally fan support back around him heading into next season.
Tennessee 45 Nebraska 35
The Vols overall talent will be just enough to win a shootout over the Cornhuskers.