The game of football continues to change on offense, but one old axiom still holds pretty true most of the time: The team that runs the ball the best tends to win. That’s not necessarily for the most yards — there’s a reason Mike Riley always uses the word “efficiently” when he talks about his hopes for a run game — but which team is able to do what it wants on the ground when it wants to do it?
This is no great insight because it’s true of almost every game, but that will be big in the Music City Bowl as well. Tennessee senior defensive lineman Corey Vereen said it’s the thing that jumped out to him while watching Nebraska on film.
“They have a big, physical O-line, so that’s definitely the most impressive thing,” he said. “Especially [coming] from the last game, where we failed to stop the run in certain aspects.”
Tennessee’s regular season ended in Nashville with a 45-34 loss to Vanderbilt. The Commodores only rushed for 192 yards, but averaged 5.05 yards per carry. That wasn’t great, but was actually an above-average game for the Volunteers over the last half of the season. Starting with the loss to Texas A&M on Oct. 8, Tennessee gave up an average of 6.43 yards per carry to six FBS opponents, including 7.06 to the Aggies, 8.52 to Alabama and 8.05 to Kentucky.
Can Nebraska gain some ground, literally, against that defense? I expect the Huskers to try. Riley hasn’t officially confirmed it, but I don’t see any way Tommy Armstrong Jr. plays in this game, which means the Huskers’ run game is going to have to come from its running backs and the offensive line, two areas that were shaky at times in 2016.
Of course, that was the case last year, too, and Nebraska came out and bowled straight ahead, and eventually over, UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl. From an offensive-scheme standpoint, this Music City Bowl is starting to feel similar, but we’ll find out more today when we talk to offensive coaches and players following Nebraska’s practice.
There’s still a decent chance that the upcoming College Football Playoff semifinals change the order here a little bit, but for now here are the top 20 most-watched primetime programs of 2016 among 18- to 49-year-olds.
Among the top 20 telecasts, 10 of them were football, including five of the top 10. Another seven in the top 20 were sports. The only two non-sports programs to crack the top 20 were the Oscars and “The Walking Dead”.
As an Olympic year, 2016 was a little bit of an exception, but when they say live sports are the last safe bet on television, this is what they’re talking about and football is clearly driving the bus.
The Grab Bag
- ICYMI: Nebraska took the chicken-wing-eating contest last night, but Tennessee took the songwriting and karaoke titles. Story and photos from the welcome event are here. Also, here is yesterday’s practice report.
- Rocky Top Talk previews the Music City Bowl and goes deep on Tennessee’s defense.
- Iowa AD Gary Barta says he’s “never seen a coach that fits better” than Kirk Ferentz does with the Hawkeyes.
- Tennessee’s All-American defensive end Derek Barnett, who is likely off to the NFL, says not playing the bowl game would be disrespectful.
TODAY’S SONG OF TODAY
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.