The University of Tennessee football team came into the 2016 season with enormous expectations and that means they’ve also had to deal with enormous pressure. The team faces the pressure to win every game, but especially the marquee matchups on the schedule. With two big milestones (the home opener and the Battle at Bristol) out of the way, it might be natural for the team to look ahead to the next major challenges. This is a mistake that the Vols must avoid this week when they take on the Ohio University Bobcats on Saturday at noon.
There’s plenty of big games on the horizon to distract the Vols. In just two weeks, they host SEC East rival Florida and have a chance to end an 11-game losing streak to the Gators. After that, it’s a two-week road trip to play Georgia and Texas A&M before returning to Knoxville to play host to Alabama.
With that ridiculous four-game stretch in mind, the game against Ohio seems like an easy warm-up that should be over before halftime. That’s a dangerous mindset to have, as evidenced by the season opener against Appalachian State.
Despite coming in as heavy favorites, the Vols trailed at halftime and needed a ridiculous touchdown in overtime to see off the Mountaineers. In just its third season as an FBS program, Appalachian State was seen as a pushover by many Tennessee fans. This was despite the fact that the Mountaineers were coming off an 11-2 season, which culminated with a win in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl.
Ohio didn’t win their conference last year — that honor belonged to Bowling Green, who played a close one against the Vols last year. The Bobcats also lost last year’s starting quarterback to graduation, but they still have a dangerous offense. Heading into its matchup with Tennessee, Ohio is ranked 12th in the nation in total yards gained and is tied for 19th in points scored, while only committing one turnover. And their defense isn’t terrible either — they’ve allowed only 66 rushing yards per game (which is ranked No. 15 in the nation). The team has also recorded three interceptions and three recovered fumbles in just two games.
The Bobcats could cause problems for opponents that overlook them, and the Vols haven’t looked particularly dominant so far this season. Ohio went 8-5 last year, and they held a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter of their bowl game before collapsing down the stretch.
Who was the Bobcats’ opponent in that bowl game? Appalachian State.
Tennessee is getting ready to enter the most difficult part of its schedule — a stretch of games that could decide whether this season is just another in a line of disappointing seasons. Despite the importance of the pending games, however, Tennessee simply can’t afford to look past Ohio this week. If they do, it could be bad news for the Vols.
Edited by Adam Milliken
Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics