Tigers get Tuesday wake-up call
Head coach Nick Saban and at least two other coaches were seen screaming expletives at players during individual drills, demanding their attention and focus. "It's Volunteer week! Let's go!" shouted one of them. Saban may be aware of just how tall the Tigers' odds are this weekend. LSU has not upset a top-10 team since shocking Alabama 17-13 on Nov. 6, 1993. What's more, only Steve Spurrier and Florida have won in Neyland Stadium since 1994. The Volunteers are ranked No. 9 in the nation heading into Saturday's contest, which is set for 6:45 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN. "I think (the Vols) have changed and adapted through the years, relative to the personnel that they have," Saban said Monday. "But the one thing they've always been is a physical team on both sides of the ball, even when they threw it." This season, UT has operated primarily out of the I-formation for two reasons — they like to and they've needed to. Eric Parker and Donté Stallworth, two of the Vols' top receivers, have missed time with injuries (Parker expects to play Saturday; Stallworth does not). Sophomore quarterback Casey Clausen struggled during UT's first two games. Though he completed 61 percent of his passes, Clausen has managed just 272 total yards with one touchdown and one interception. "I think they might actually they might prefer to run the ball to set up their passing game," said middle linebacker Treverance Faulk. "They have real big, physical offensive linemen. Their running back, Travis Stephens — he's not the biggest guy, but he runs real hard." Stephens is a 5-foot-9, 190-pound fifth-year senior who expected to take over for Jamal Lewis. Instead, injuries forced Stephens to wait behind Lewis and Travis Henry, who became the Vols' all-time leading rusher last season. In two games thus far, Stephens has been the workhorse. In UT's season-opening 33-9 win Sept. 1 against Syracuse, he finished with a career-high 111 yards on 14 carries, including single-play gains of 40 and 34 yards. One week later, amid nasty conditions in Fayetteville, Ark., Stephens eclipsed his career mark with 206 yards and a touchdown on 46 attempts against Arkansas in an ugly 13-3 victory. Perhaps that's why the Tigers' fiery coaching staff has stressed the importance of getting down and dirty through much of their practices the last two weeks. "I think the coaches have done a good job as far as the types of practices that we've been having. They've been really physical, the first couple of them," Faulk said. "They know that one of the main things that can go down after a long layoff is just tackling. We've been doing a lot of tackling in practice, making sure that we're in good position to make tackles." At practice Tuesday, three players — senior safety Lionel Thomas, defensive end Kenderick Allen and freshman safety Brandon Williams — showed up in red no-contact jerseys. Defensive end Jarvis Green, who wore red Monday afternoon, and tight end Robert Royal, who didn't participate at all, were both back at full speed Tuesday. So was quarterback Rohan Davey, who returned to Baton Rouge after a weekend trip to Miami over the weekend. Senior cornerback Robert Davis, who injured his right knee in the Utah State game Sept. 8, missed practice again Tuesday. "We have a lot of proving to do," Saban said. "We have to prove that we have the maturity to play on the road, that we're going to prepare ourselves well enough to play the kind of game we're going to need to play to … keep our focus in an environment that is going to do everything to get our focus out of balance."
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