"Over the years Auburn and Alabama has been a big game," Torbush continued. "And because of what (Florida Coach Steve) Spurrier has been doing to Tennessee, I'm sure that one has become big. But if you ask our players which game excites them the most, I'm sure Tennessee would come up No. 1 or 2 on most every list."
Alabama is coming off a tough loss on the road at Mississippi, but there should at least be some carryover for the Tide defense. Before taking the head job at Ole Miss, David Cutcliffe was a long-time offensive coordinator for the Volunteers. "Tennessee will remind you of Ole Miss," Torbush explained. "Except they've got more experience and more senior leadership in the offensive line. They'll be a balanced offense just like we just saw (from the Rebels). Those two offenses will resemble each other a great deal."
But even though the schemes may be similar, this week's challenge is greater because frankly UT has better athletes.
For example, statistically Joe Gunn was the best runner Ole Miss had to offer, averaging 62. 4 yards per game. But the Volunteers will trot out Travis Stephens, currently leading the SEC in rushing with 147 yards per game. "Tennessee will really work to establish the running game," Torbush agreed. "And working off that they can get the play-action passing game going."
At the mid-point of the season, Tennessee sports the second-best rushing offense in the league, averaging 179 yards per game (50 yards behind Alabama). Injuries and a bit of a sophomore slump from their quarterback have the Volunteers rated only sixth in the conference via the air. But make no mistake; the UT athletes are excellent.
Torbush explained; "Their quarterback (Casey Clausen) is very solid. And they have tremendous size at the wide receiver position. Leonard Scott (5-11, 170, Jr) and Kelley Washington (6-4, 225, Fr) are probably as good looking as any receivers we'll play."
Having given up on a career in pro baseball, Washington is easily the most impressive so-called ‘walk-on' in the nation. And the probable return of previously injured Donte Stallworth (6-1, 190, Jr) presents a formidable challenge for the Tide secondary. "It's scary," Torbush said. "They're not only big, but they're strong and athletic. We're going to have to do a good job of mixing it up--make sure we make some plays on balls when they're in the air."
Torbush summed up the challenge his defense will face this Saturday; "There is no doubt Tennessee will be one of the most physical teams we face on offense. They're very athletic. They had a tough loss themselves the previous week (against Georgia), so I'm sure Coach Fulmer has had a tough week of practice."
Of course Torbush is referring to Alabama's bitterly disappointing 27-24 defeat by Ole Miss in the rain at Oxford. In that contest the Tide defense was essentially on the field for the entire fourth quarter, with the Rebels scoring late to win.
From the outside it is easy to conclude that Alabama and Tennessee are two teams heading in the opposite direction, but Torbush wouldn't agree. "Even though (fans) might not see it as much as we see it, I think our players are improving," he said. They're getting better. We played hard (Saturday), but late in the game we had a chance to make a few plays and we didn't make them. Because of that we ended up losing."