Tide Tackling Must Improve

Alabama Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines doesn't look at statistics to judge an opposing offense, especially when those statistics are less than impressive, as Tennessee's are.

"All I know is what I see on tape. I didn't major in math; I'm a P.E., major," Kines said. "They've got good people. They've got a good scheme. It's the same thing they've been doing for the last 10, 12, 14 years. It's a day's work, I can tell you that."

"You take away the sacks and add that yardage back in like you would in the NFL and they're averaging about 125 yards a game rushing the ball," he said.

Bama's defense will see the biggest offensive line it has seen all year. The Vols starting five offensive linemen average a monstrous 334 pounds.

But even with junior tailback Gerald Riggs, who ranks third in rushing in the Southeastern Conference with 92.4 yards per game (109 carries, 462 yards, 4.2 ypc), the Vols haven't exactly struck fear into opponents with their ability to run the football.

Tennessee ranks 10th in the SEC, behind Ole Miss and South Carolina, in rushing offense with 98 yards per game. Riggs has carried the ball more than any other player in the Southeastern Conference with one exception, Alabama's Kenneth Darby.

Kines said, "I think they run the power about as good as anybody in ball. They always have. It's been their staple. It's been their bread-and-butter for years. He's (UT head coach Phillip Fulmer) an offensive line coach from way back. They've got a good back and a good line. They do that well."

Through the air, the combination of Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen have completed only 53.5 percent of their passes (105-of-195) with five touchdowns and six interceptions. The Vols rank a respectable fourth in the league pass offense with 237.4 yards per game.

There's been speculation about which quarterback will get the starting assignment for this week's game. Fulmer has seesawed back and forth between Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen through the early portion of the year.

Kines said not much changes whether Ainge or Clausen is in the game, but they obviously have different attributes. Clausen, a senior, is a more experienced player and has more composure under fire. He is not as good a passer as Ainge, however.

Ainge has the better arm and passing skills, but the true sophomore has made costly freshman mistakes this year. The most high-profile and one of Ainge's more stupid plays was against LSU, when tried to sling a no-look pass out of the end zone to avoid a safety, only to toss it to an LSU defensive lineman who walked unmolested into the end zone for a touchdown.

Alabama's defense will blitz and stun more to try to rattle Ainge when he is in the game.

It was clear that Mississippi kept an eye on strongside linebacker DeMeco Ryans' alignment on Saturday, and avoided running anywhere near him. Ryans had just two tackles on the day-both solo stops, and a forced fumble way downfield in the first quarter.

"There wasn't too much action my way," he said. "When it came my way I was pretty much containing and sending it back inside to the other guys. It's total team defense. I'm not concerned with making the plays. If they come to me I'll make them. If they don't I hope my teammates will make them."

Junior Juwan Simpson appeared to get the bulk of the action when Ole Miss ran. He led Alabama last week with eight tackles, including one stop for a loss.

"I don't think so," Kines responded when asked if he though offenses would try to avoid Ryans. "We've got all three of those guys that have played good (Ryans, Simpson and middle linebacker Freddie Roach). DeMeco plays on both sides. I don't think that's an issue."

Kines said the defense was sluggish early in last week's game because during the off week coaches opted to let the players recover from nicks and bruises through the first five games.

"We hadn't played in 14 days. That's a long time to go without hitting somebody that's really good," Kines said. "You can't do both. You can't get them healthy and fresh AND then work the living tar out of them. You can't do both, so we chose to try to get them healthy a little bit. We had some guys banged up and beat up, and as a result the first quarter or so the speed of the game got to us a little bit."

Whether or not it was the off-week, something had a dampening effect on the Tide's ability to tackle well. That's an area of focus this week.

"If we don't tackle better we're in a mess anyway," Kines said. "We had 19 missed tackles last week. That's the most this unit's had in a long time. If you don't step on their toes and wrap them up, it's hard to tackle backs in this conference."

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