Thrill of Victory

Titans, Vols face tough road tests

Vandy’s off, the Vols are not, and the Titans have another tough game ahead of them this weekend. Here’s a quick look at what to expect on Saturday and Sunday.

Titans travel to face surging Texans
It’s hard to blame Houston fans if they feel they’re getting the last laugh right now. Ever since owner Bud Adams announced plans to take the city’s beloved Oilers in the ‘90s, times haven’t been great for pro football fans in the city – until now.

While the Titans got blown out in Weeks 1 and 2 before barely hanging on for a good win against the Lions in Week 3, the Texans have steamrolled the Dolphins and the Jaguars, and were doing the same thing to the Broncos in Denver until Peyton Manning led a late comeback that fell short. The Texans 46-point differential is the biggest in the NFL so far, which has just given more ammunition to the people talking about the Texans and Super Bowls in the same breath before the season started.

Is that kind of talk justified? I think it is. Arian Foster may be the league’s best running back, quarterback Matt Schaub is one of the NFL’s most underrated players, and Andre Johnson is still an elite wideout. The defense has long been the problem for years, but now, the Texans rank No. 2 in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense.

What about the Titans? Well, Jake Locker is giving us reason to hope, but Chris Johnson – who has a total of 81 rushing yards in three games – and a defense that ranks last in scoring defense and next-to-last in total defense do not. And here’s the real problem: what’s the problem: what do the Titans do better than the Texans? Other than making plays on special teams, there’s not much – as best I can see. Prediction: Texans 31, Titans 20

Vols face red-hot Georgia in Athens
If you like offense, you might like this game. The Vols got exposed for a lot of things against Florida two weeks ago; notably, all those improvements we’d heard about on defense and the running game looked rather suspect that fateful Saturday evening. But the Vols still have Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, and those three are good enough to score some points against anyone.

the Vols don’t have are impactful defensive players like defensive tackle John Jenkins and linebacker Jarvis Jones. Nor do they have an Alec Ogletree (although A.J. Johnson’s been pretty good) or a Bacarri Rambo, the linebacker and safety who’ve been suspended the first four games but should return this weekend.

Georgia scored almost at will on Vanderbilt last week, and the Commodores defense had been pretty solid until that game. And that’s the bad news for coach Derek Dooley: the Vols are far better on offense than Vandy right now, but that’s probably not true on the defensive side.

UT can get some points – for all that talent, Georgia tends to have too many breakdowns – but I don’t think it can get a lot of stops. Prediction: Georgia 41, Tennessee 21

Sizing up the other Southeastern Conference games:
Ole Miss at Alabama: The Rebels have played quite respectably in a 3-1 start. Unfortunately, the defense got exposed a bit in giving up 66 points to Texas (in Oxford, no less) two weeks ago. Nick Saban’s grind-it-out style probably keeps the top-end score at something less than that, but make no mistake, Alabama’s perpetual pound-you-between-the-tackles running attack will get harder to stop as the game goes on. And speaking of between the tackles, the Rebels are banged-up there, and speaking of mistakes, Alabama almost never makes one. I think we all know where this one’s heading. Prediction: Alabama 44, Ole Miss 10

Arkansas at Texas A&M:, Arkansas’s Rivals site, has now had a Coaching Hot Board up for two weeks to discuss potential head coaching hires for next year, because at this point, I stand every bit as much chance of coaching the Razorbacks next year as John L. Smith does. (Note to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long: just add a “zero” to the end of my paycheck, and I’ll coach the Razorbacks. You can’t do much worse right now.)

Arkansas has superstar quarterback Tyler Wilson back, but unless Wilson can start playing defense, the cause is mostly hopeless in Fayetteville right now – especially with the Razorbacks being banged-up in the secondary. A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel has been terrific so far, and his biggest problem on Saturday may be to keep his eyeballs from popping out of their sockets as he surveys the open field in front of him snap after snap. And on offense, just getting Wilson through this game could be a concern given A&M’s tremendous pass rush. Prediction:Texas A&M 42, Arkansas 27

South Carolina at Kentucky: The only place where things are worse than in Fayettville right now is Lexington. Quarterback Maxwell Smith is about all the Wildcats have right now, and without him last week, the ‘Cats got blasted 38-0 by Florida. Smith is going to play this week, but his shoulder’s not in good shape, and he missed a lot of practice this week because of it. If Smith gets knocked out for the season, you can kiss UK’s chances of beating just about anybody the rest of the season (Samford excluded) goodbye.

As for Carolina… the Gamecocks are looking pretty dominant on defense right now. The offense has gotten better since the 17-point effort against Vandy in Nashville, as the Gamecocks receivers have finally started to make some plays. I think it’s obvious now that running back Marcus Lattimore isn’t the Lattimore of old, but hey, Carolina doesn’t really need him to be that right now as-is. Look for USC to win a school-record ninth-straight game going away. Prediction: South Carolina 41, Kentucky 6

Missouri at Central Florida: UCF is 2-1, and (at least statistically) gave Ohio State a nice run for its money a couple of weeks ago, though the Buckeyes did have a 22-point second-half lead at one point. Missouri suddenly can’t score, which tends to happen when you play Georgia and South Carolina.

There are some grumblings in Missouri that quarterback James Franklin might not be the guy to lead the Tigers’ offense after his spectacular 2011 season. I think they’re wrong, and I suspect that this is the weekend that Gary Pinkel’s team starts to figure it out a bit, though the injuries are piling up in Columbia and that’s certainly a concern. Prediction: Missouri 27, UCF 23

Towson at LSU: The Bengal Tigers just escaped at Auburn last week with a 12-10 win, and running back Alfred Blue may now be done for the year. That raises a few questions about LSU’s offense, but there’s not a snowball’s chance that Towson presents a problem this week. Prediction: LSU 52, Towson 3