If you were to ask Tennessee Volunteers first-year head Butch Jones and his staff what they are most concerned about coming into this weekend against Western Kentucky, they might say trying to contain the Toppers ground game led by Antonio Andrews, defending the prolific passing game of Brandon Doughty or containing senior linebacker Andrew Jackson from making serious plays at the second level would all be viable concerns for any coaching staff game planning around them.
But most of all, it will be the head coach on the opposite sideline at Neyland Stadium that will consume all of Jones’ attention come Saturday afternoon. The offensive mastermind that is, Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino.
Petrino’s offense gained 487 yards with junior quarterback Brandon Doughty throwing 27 of 34 for 271 through the air, scoring all five of its touchdowns on drives of 60 yards or longer. All the uncertainty about how fast the Hilltoppers could be successful and grasp Petrino’s rigorous and complicated power-spread offense were answered last weekend in their win against Kentucky.
And this weekend, Petrino brings a very talented, experienced roster to Knoxville with confidence and a nothing to lose attitude in their second consecutive game against an SEC opponent with the mindset of winning.
Petrino comes into the game 1-0 against the Volunteers in his career after leading his eighth-ranked Razorbacks to a 49-7 win over the Vols and former head coach/current Dallas Cowboys wide receivers coach Derek Dooley in 2011. The last meeting between the Volunteers and Hilltoppers resulted in a lopsided 63-7 season-opening win for Tennessee in 2009.
This matchup is intriguing in so many ways. Petrino has stated publicly that his program has been eying this game with Tennessee throughout the offseason and summer. His offense that started with guns a blazing scoring on three of their first four possession have all the confidence and experience to give Tennessee a run for their money. Especially after Tennessee is coming off a 2012 campaign that saw their defensive unit surrender an average of 471 yards a game.
Tennessee brings veterans on the offensive front that will be a major disadvantage to Nick Holt and the Hilltoppers defense in the running game come Saturday. But the Volunteers defense possesses an inexperienced group in the secondary that could be shredded by Petrino’s passing attack.
However, Butch Jones and that coaching staff should have that team ready to go against a Sun Belt title contender and potential BCS bowl buster.
Petrino has a chance to go 2-0 against America’s best and toughest conference in the same season.
If that indeed is the case, Petrino will have another program in contention for a BCS bowl berth, which would be his third in as many stops.
He might be in contention for numerous jobs around the nation.