Wednesday, July 23, 2014 · 3:24 a.m.

Preview: Tennessee vs. South Alabama

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Neyland Stadium (Photo: David Johnston)

Tennessee vs. South Alabama

Saturday, 12:21 p.m. ET

Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, Tenn.

Radio: Vol Network (106.5 FM Chattanooga)

TV: SEC TV

Series Record: First meeting

Why Saturday is important

After back-to-back road games against ranked opponents, coming back home to face a Sun Belt squad must feel like a welcomed break on some levels for the Vols. That being said, everybody around the program knows that this squad isn’t good enough to just show up on Saturday and win. The Vols have more talent than South Alabama, but the Jaguars beat Western Kentucky, a team that had some success moving the ball against the Vols, so UT should be aware of its challenge. This game isn't one circled on the calendar necessarily, but for a team aiming for a return to the postseason, it’s a game the Vols must win.

Three things to know about South Alabama

After a two-year transition period, the Jaguars are now a full-fledged FBS program. The school began playing football in 2009. It won its first 17 games against lighter competition, but began to get a dose of major college football in 2011. The Jags slipped to 6-4 that season while beginning to face some FBS opponents. The following year, 2012, was even tougher as South Alabama struggled against a schedule full of Sun Belt teams, finishing 2-11. … Despite its limited tradition as a program, the Jaguars have played some notable games, including respectable losses at Mississippi State and North Carolina State in 2012. This season, the Jaguars knocked off Western Kentucky, a team coming off a bowl appearance in 2012 and also a squad that beat Kentucky to begin the 2013 season. … However, it’s still a work in progress for the school located in Mobile, Ala. The Jags fell to Southern Utah, an FCS program, to start this season. In total, they’ve only won four of their last 13 games. It’s a program that will come to Knoxville with some confidence, but likely lacks the overall depth and talent to win this game.

What you should know about South Alabama head coach Joey Jones

Jones is the only head coach in the history of the program. He enters Saturday’s contest with a 27-16 overall record as he’s navigated the program from nothing all the way up to the FBS level. … Jones has deep ties to the state of Alabama. Originally a native of Mobile, he was a wide receiver at the University of Alabama and went on to have a brief professional career. After that he returned to the state to coach high school football before moving on to help restart the football program at Birmingham Southern. … With his local ties and experience in building teams from the ground up, he was a natural selection for the Jaguars.

Tennessee player to watch

Supposedly the strength of the team, the offensive line hasn’t been as dominant as some assumed it would be thus far in 2013. They need more from all five starters, including star left tackle Tiny Richardson, who will look to bounce back after giving up a costly sack at Florida last week. The Vols’ O-line outweighs South Alabama’s four defensive linemen by an average of over 50 pounds per man. That should be an area UT can dominate on Saturday.

South Alabama players to watch

Quarterbacks Ross Metheny and Brandon Bridge both bring unique talents to the position. Metheny, a Virginia transfer, is the starter and the better all-around quarterback. He’s a dual-threat player, but he’s got some touch and accuracy. Bridge, a transfer from Alcorn State, is a pure runner. He’s piled up 101 yards on just 15 carries this season and is a threat for a long run any time he’s in the game.

Random facts to impress your friends

The Jaguars are loaded with transfers. Almost a third of their roster is comprised of players who transferred from either a four-year institution or a junior college. That includes two former University of Alabama players – wide receiver Danny Woodson II and offensive lineman Darius McKeller. … A win on Saturday would give the Vols 11 straight home non-conference victories and four straight wins at home. … A victory would also give UT a 3-2 record for the third straight season. … Tennessee has an 8-0 all-time record against current members of the Sun Belt.

Quotable

"You have South Alabama coming in here not feeling sorry for us. They had a bye week, they had an extra week of preparation. Defensively – athletic, physical, very aggressive, bring a lot of pressure and they play very good team defense. Very well-coached football team. We have to do a great job, we have to be ready for anything and everything come Saturday."

– Tennessee head coach Butch Jones

The Vols will win if ...

They control the line of scrimmage, protect the ball and keep good contain on defense. Florida hurt UT on outside runs last week and South Alabama has the capability to do the same. They need to keep runs funneled to the middle – the strength of the defense – and not give up contain. Quarterback Justin Worley needs to avoid costly mistakes and manage the offense. The run game must show more explosion than the last two weeks as well.

The Vols will lose if ...

Turning the ball over six times like they did at Florida would make this game very interesting. Even losing the turnover margin by just one or two could help the Jaguars make this a game. The Vols should win this one if they play up to their potential, but it would only take a few mistakes to give the Jaguars the confidence that they can hang with them.

Unofficial injury report:

Out: WR Devrin Young, QB Nathan Peterman, TE Alex Ellis, TE Justin Meredith, TE Joseph Ayres, LB Curt Maggitt, WR Ryan Jenkins, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, DT Maurice Couch (ineligible)

Questionable: WR Johnathon Johnson, LB Raiques Crump. CB Riyahd Jones, CB Michael Williams

Prediction

Tennessee 34, South Alabama 14

Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga

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