- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Tennessee Volunteers insist they aren’t dwelling on last week’s overtime loss to Oklahoma or looking ahead to next week’s Southeastern Conference opener at Florida. The Vols say all their attention is on Western Carolina.

“Our team understands every game’s important,” Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs said. “We’ve got to be thankful for each opportunity to step on the field, and you can’t look ahead to other opponents. We know to focus on this week’s task. Florida will come when it will come.”

Auburn already showed Tennessee (1-1) the danger in overlooking a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones said he hasn’t had to bring up Auburn having to come from behind in the final minute of regulation last week to beat FCS program Jacksonville State 27-20 in overtime last week.

“Our players know,” Jones said. “Everyone has Twitter and Instagram. Everyone watches all the news feeds. They know what is out there. That is the world we live in. I have not had to bring that up, but they are aware of it.”

Western Carolina, which is getting $500,000 to play Saturday’s game at Tennessee, isn’t as accomplished as Jacksonville State.

Jacksonville State was the No. 3 seed in the 2014 FCS playoffs, while Western Carolina went 7-5 last season after losing at least nine games every year from 2006-13. The Catamounts (1-1) have never beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision program in 49 attempts.

But the Catamounts’ coach knows something about upsetting big-time programs. Western Carolina’s Mark Speir was an assistant coach on the 2007 Appalachian State team that stunned Michigan, which was ranked fifth at the time.

Speir’s Catamounts led South Florida at halftime before falling 36-31 last season. In its other 2014 game with an FBS program, Western Carolina lost 48-14 to Alabama. He says his approach toward FBS opponents is similar to the strategy Appalachian State utilized during his time there.

“You don’t make your opponent bigger than it is,” Speir said. “Our players know what Tennessee is. They know (Tennessee’s) a great football team with some of the nation’s finest prospects and players. What we’ve got to do is worry about ourselves. We’ve got to have a belief that we can go in there and compete.”


Some things to watch when Western Carolina visits Tennessee.

DIVISION OF CARRIES: Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara each ran for over 100 yards in Tennessee’s season-opening victory over Bowling Green. But in the Oklahoma game, Hurd had 24 carries for 106 yards while Kamara ran just four times for four yards. It will be interesting to see if Hurd again has the featured role Saturday or if carries are split more evenly.

PASSING ACCURACY: Dobbs has completed just 52.8 percent of his passes this season. Marquez North and Alvin “Pig” Howard are two of Tennessee’s most proven receivers, yet they have only one catch each. This matchup with an FCS foe could give Tennessee a chance to fix its passing problems before starting SEC competition.

REPLACING MAGGITT: Tennessee must cope with the absence of Curt Maggitt, who chipped a bone in his hip against Oklahoma. Maggitt typically alternates between defensive end and linebacker. Freshman Austin Smith is expected to fill Maggitt’s void at linebacker when Tennessee’s in a 4-3 defense. Maggitt’s absence also should create more opportunities for defensive ends Corey Vereen, Kyle Phillips and Dimarya Mixon among others.

McNEIL’S RETURN: Senior safety LaDarrell McNeil is expected to return to action this week after missing Tennessee’s first two games with what Jones described as “neck instability.” Jones said the Vols would “slowly ease him in” as McNeil rejoins a safety rotation that also includes fifth-year senior Brian Randolph and Todd Kelly Jr., who had two interceptions last week.

MITCHELL’S SHOWCASE: Saturday’s game gives Western Carolina quarterback Troy Mitchell an opportunity to perform on a bigger stage. Mitchell, the Catamounts’ all-time career leader in total offense, has 5,502 career yards passing and 1,641 yards rushing. He has three interceptions and only one touchdown pass so far this season.

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