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Sooners: Key Storylines For Matchup With Tennessee

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After easing into the 2015 football season with a win over Akron, it’s now time for the No. 19 Sooners to face their first test as they travel to take on the No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers. Here are some potential storylines heading into Saturday.

Buckle up for this shootout

With only one weekend of college football under our belt, it’s hard to pin point the identity for any team due to a small sampling size. Both Oklahoma and Tennessee kicked off its season with dominating wins last Saturday, and one takeaway from each contest is that both teams can light up a scoreboard with ease.

After a slow start offensively, the Sooners responded with five straight scoring drives in a 41-3 blowout over Akron, while displaying flashes of greatness in Lincoln Riley’s new offense. The Volunteers were also busy flexing their offensive muscles while scampering for 399 yards in a 59-30 win over a solid Bowling Green squad.

Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord directed eight touchdown drives against Bowling Green with an average scoring time of less than two minutes.  That fast-paced Vols’ offense mirrors that of their Big 12 opponent, and both defenses will have a tough task in slowing down either offense.  

No shortage of running backs

In many hurry up offenses throughout college football, it’s common to see pass-heavy teams that lack a viable running back to accomplish anything on the ground. That’s definitely not the case for both OU and Tennessee.  

Tennessee running backs Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd are former five star recruits, and both players lived up to their hype in week one. Kamara rumbled for 144 yards and two touchdowns while Hurd added 123 yards and three touchdowns of his own to pace the Volunteer’s offense.

Oklahoma has a set of dominant running backs as well in Semaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Neither player surpassed 35-yards rushing against Akron, but both backs were definitely involved. Perine scored the first touchdown of the game for OU while Mixon led the Sooners through the air with 115 yards receiving and a score. Riley didn’t shy away from lining up both playmakers in the backfield at the same time, and that formation should create problems for opposing defenses.

One advantage for the Sooners in this department is the play of the front seven on defense. Oklahoma linebackers Dominique Alexander, Jordan Evans and Frank Shannon are all experienced, and the trio combined for 20 tackles against Akron. Also impressive in week one was the OU defensive line, who showed they’ll be tough to move at the line of scrimmage.

For Tennessee, the Vols will be without starting defensive lineman Danny O’Brien, who’s suspended for a violation of team rules. News of the suspension is salt in the wound for a Tennessee defense that allowed four running plays of 10-plus yards while also surrendering 12 completions of 15 yards or more. The Vols are also wet behind the ears at linebacker, and youngsters Colton Jumper and Darrin Kirkland will have their hands full trying to slow down Perine and Mixon.

Big 12 vs. SEC rivalry

The SEC currently has ten teams ranked in the top 25, and in his press conference on Monday, Bob Stoops made it clear that his team was far from intimidated to hit the road and play in a hostile SEC environment.

“I have a hard time understanding these questions about going to a stadium. We go to stadiums every week and generally when we show up, it isn't half empty. It's always full so no, we don't do anything different,”   Stoops said.

Stoops has been vocal about the SEC in the past, and has made comments about the conference being “top heavy” when comparing it to other power five conferences.

The Oklahoma coach wasn’t the only Sooner with an opinion about the SEC. Linebacker Eric Striker, who’s also a team captain, was very open about what he thinks.

“SEC, they've got this, they got that. What you don't understand is, you've gotta get it done in between the lines. That's all that matters. So who's the better team when the whistle blows in between the lines? That's all I care about,” Striker said on Tuesday night.

Those comments could fuel motivation for Tennessee, so look for the intensity in this matchup to be through the roof.

Neyland will be rocking

At 5 p.m. central time on Saturday night, Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee will be packed with 102,000 screaming Volunteers’ fans as they try to will their hometown team back into national prominence. Vols’ head coach, Butch Jones, has already stated this week that he believes the Sooners are a top five program in the nation. Jones may or may not be right, but a win against OU would impel a Tennessee program that’s thirsting to get back on top.

There’s no need to hype this game up anymore for Tennessee fans, as they plan to stripe the stadium with white and orange for Saturday night’s game. The game can be seen on ESPN.   

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