TENNESSEE (3-5) vs. CHARLOTTE (4-4)
4 p.m. at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville
VIDEO & RADIO
SEC Network Alternate & 106.5 FM
Tennessee and Charlotte will meet for the first time as the much-improved 49ers visit on homecoming. It's Charlotte's fifth season of football, and this year's 49ers have matched the program's record for wins in a season with four games to go. The Volunteers have won 29 straight home games against teams outside the Power Five conferences, and they need to keep that streak alive if they hope to qualify for a bowl game. Tennessee needs to win three of its final four regular-season contests to be eligible for a bowl, and this is the easiest game left on the schedule. Still, this has the makings of a trap game for the Vols because it's sandwiched between key conference contests and won't feature the raucous atmosphere of earlier home games against Florida and Alabama. But the Vols have plenty to work on, and they shouldn't overlook an opponent that is coming off a 20-17 victory against Southern Mississippi.
ONE TO WATCH
Can Tennessee successfully unleash its full offensive package with Marcus Tatum at left tackle? The sophomore filled in admirably for Trey Smith in Tennessee's 27-24 loss at South Carolina last week. But offensive coordinator Tyson Helton rolled out a special game plan against the Gamecocks that called for a lot of quick throws from quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. Downfield passing has been a strength for Tennessee this season, but Helton needs to trust his left tackle if he is going to call plays that take time to develop. Guarantano has been rocked by big hits often this season, and the Vols need to keep him upright in a nonconference game. Tatum bears a big part of that responsibility because left tackle is the offensive line's most vital position to pass protection for a right-handed quarterback.
IN THE END
Even in the doldrums of a 4-8 season, Tennessee handled a Conference USA foe with ease last year. The Vols are banged up in the secondary and missing a few good players on their offensive line, but overall they are in much better health than they were when they beat Southern Mississippi 24-10 this time last year. Charlotte offers a comparable test, and Tennessee is much improved over where it was in early November 2017. There may not be a ton of energy in Neyland Stadium, but expect the Vols to look much better in this contest than they did in an underwhelming win against the University of Texas at El Paso on Sept. 15. This is Tennessee's first game against a nonconference opponent since then, and the improvement it has made will be on display.
Tennessee 38, Charlotte 14