Previewing The Tennessee Volunteers

The game of the week in the SEC takes place in Auburn this weekend when the Tigers play host to the seventh-ranked Tennessee Volunteers in a match up of teams that play similar styles.

The Vols enter the game undefeated with victories over both Florida and South Carolina in the SEC play while the Tigers have one win against Vanderbilt in conference action.

Coach Phillip Fulmer's squad is filled with depth and experience on offense and in the defensive secondary. Led by quarterback Casey Clausen (6-4, 225), who is undefeated in his last 11 road starts, Tennessee has been tough to beat away from home and that spells trouble this weekend for Auburn if he gets off to a good start.

Phillip Fulmer's Volunteers rely heavily on their running game.

A senior who is fifth all-time in the SEC in passing efficiency, Clausen has compiled a record of 28-7 as a starter and has 21 career 200-yard passing games in his career. This season Clausen has been his usual consistent self, averaging 194.5 yards passing per game with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. His top outings came against Marshall and Florida when he threw for 235 yards against each in back-to-back games.

While Clausen has been the glue for the Vols, the key to the Tennessee offense is the running game. Last season the Vols struggled to run the ball consistently and that was the root cause of the most disappointing season in a long time on Rocky Top. This year the combination of Cedric Houston (6-0, 215, Jr.) and Jabari Davis (6-0, 225, Jr.) has been pounding opponents as Tennessee is second in the league averaging 188.7 yards per game. Both powerful, Houston and Davis each rank in the Top 10 in the SEC in rushing. As a team the Vols are averaging 4.4 yards per carry and have 10 runs of 20 yards or more. Last season they had just 14 in 13 games.

At fullback senior Troy Fleming (6-2, 226) is a weapon and a very capable runner and receiver out of the backfield. He has caught at least one pass in every game this season and has a streak of 42 consecutive carries for positive yardage. Backing him up is big sophomore William Revill. A player Auburn recruiting followers will remember, Revill is up to 250 pounds and has become a good blocking fullback.

The running game begins up front and that is helped by a strong and experienced line led by center Scott Wells. A 6-2, 300-pound senior, he has made 40 consecutive starts and knows all the tricks of the trade. Joining him up front are preseason All-American Michael Munoz (6-6, 305, Jr.) at left tackle, senior Anthony Herrera (6-4, 305) and junior Jason Respert (6-3, 305) at left guard, Cody Douglas (6-4, 315, So.) at right guard and Sean Young (6-7, 310, Sr.) at right tackle.

Quarterback Casey Clausen has been a fixture in the Vols' lineup going back to his freshman season.

Last season the Vols had one of the top tight ends in the country in Jason Whitten, but this season they have struggled to find an adequate replacement. Former offensive lineman Victory McClure (6-4, 290, Jr.) is currently holding down the spot after moving there last season for blocking purposes. That is still his main function as he has yet to catch a pass this season, but is tough to handle in the running game.

The wide receiver position has been up and down this season with former quarterback James Banks (6-3, 200, So.) leading the team in receptions with 16 for 223 yards and four touchdowns. Also dangerous are Tony Brown (6-2, 200, Jr.) with 10 catches for 124 yards and two scores, speedy Mark Jones (5-9, 185, Sr.) with eight catches for 74 yards and true freshman Jayson Swain (6-2, 205, Fr.) with seven catches for 109 yards.

Up front defensively the Vols are as small as they have been in many years, but perhaps more athletic also. Leading the charge are defensive ends Constantin Ritzman (6-4, 265, Sr.) and Parys Haralson (6-2, 240, So.). The duo has combined for five sacks this season with Ritzman one of the most explosive defenders in the SEC. Inside senior Mondre Dickerson (6-5, 298) and sophomore J.T. Mapu (6-3, 265) hold the fort down by playing solid against the run and keeping blockers off a terrific set of linebackers.

That linebacker corps is perhaps the most underrated in the SEC with juniors Robert Peace (6-3, 235) and Kevin Burnett (6-3, 235) and sophomore Kevin Simon (5-11, 225) capable of making plays from sideline to sideline. Simon has been the big play man for the Vols this season, leading the team in tackles with 45 and sacks with three and a half. Peace has been solid in the middle with 35 tackles and a sack while Burnett has 30 tackles and a sack. If Auburn can keep this unit from making big plays, it will go a long way towards a victory Saturday night.

In the secondary free safety Rashad Baker and cornerback Jabari Greer have been mainstays since their arrival in Knoxville. The two have combined for 60 starts in their career with Baker the most experienced player on the entire defense with 35 starts in just a little over three seasons. The 5-11, 185 speedster equaled a career high with 13 tackles against South Carolina last week and is best when playing close to the line of scrimmage. Greer, 5-10, 175, is a blanket cover man with outstanding speed and plays the ball well.

Rounding out the secondary are right cornerback Antwan Stewart (6-0, 180, Fr.) and strong safety Gibril Wilson (6-1, 190, Sr.). Leading the team in interceptions is sophomore cornerback Jason Allen with two.

Perhaps the biggest weapon the Vols sport this season is punter Dustin Colquitt. The junior is having an All-American type season, averaging 49.2 yards per punt. In the last three games he has placed nine of 17 punts inside the 20-yard line, seven inside the 10 and four inside the five. He has boomed nine punts of more than 50 yards, including three over 60, and has a 50.5 average during that time. His battle with Auburn punter Kody Bliss for field position could be the determining factor between winning and losing Saturday.


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