Down But Not Out

University of Tennessee star receiver Kelley Washington has battled injuries all season long and his absence in the Volunteer's passing game is more evident with each week that goes by. Washington, a preseason All-American section, is third on the team in receptions (23) and receiving yards (443) despite playing in just four of eight games for the Volunteers this year.

The 6-4, 225-pound sophomore, who was bothered by a knee injury earlier this season, is still recovering from the after effects of a concussion suffered against Georgia last month and has missed the last two games. Washington also missed the first two games of the season with a sprained knee. Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer isn't planning on Washington's return anytime soon.

"Kelley is still not ready so we'll just have to wait and see," said Fulmer.

But the uncertainty surrounding Washington's availability for Saturday's showdown at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville between top-ranked Miami (8-0, 4-0) and Tennessee (5-3, 2-3) has done little to convince the Hurricanes secondary of what to expect from Casey Clausen and company.

"We're not going to treat this any differently just because Kelley isn't going to play in the ballgame," said Miami junior defensive back Maurice Sikes. "They still have a lot of guys that can make some plays. I know one thing on these guys though. They have some speed. Casey (Clausen) is a smart quarterback, a fighter. And he is going to come to play."

With or without Washington, the Volunteers might encounter a few problems through the air on Saturday.

Before the start of the season the Hurricanes secondary was considered the team's most glaring weakness because of their overall youth and inexperience. Miami lost their entire secondary of a year ago, including first-round NFL draft picks Ed Reed, Mike Rumph and Phillip Buchanon. But through eight games this season, Miami is first in the nation in pass defense giving up 110.5 yards a game. Miami has allowed just four passing touchdowns all season, while recording nine interceptions.

Now, the Hurricanes prepare to face the second-highest passing offense they have played all season. Despite not having Washington, Clausen, ranked 21st in the nation in passing yards per game at 242, has used an assortment of receivers effectively on the way to 1,697 passing yards. Clausen has already completed passes to 15 different receivers this season and has earned praise from the coaching staff for not trying to do too much

At 6-4, 215 pounds Clausen also has the ability to elude tacklers and occasionally throw the long ball.

"They like to mix up on offense with a lot of formations," said Sikes, who has 40 tackles on the season for the Hurricanes. "We have to be patient and not over react anywhere on the field." Despite already facing Florida's Taylor Jacobs and Florida State's Anquan Boldin this season, Sikes said the Volunteers might have the fastest receivers- as a group- that the Hurricanes have played all year.

Unlike the last several weeks against Rutgers and West Virginia, UM will need production out of their entire defensive unit. Besides a potent running game, spearheaded by Jabari Davis (89 carries, 452 yards) and Cedric Houston (59 carries, 304 yards), the Volunteers have also seen the surprising emergence of junior tight end Jason Witten. Witten, who came to Tennessee as a defensive lineman, leads the Volunteers in receptions (29) and touchdowns (4) to go with 357 yards. After having problems adjusting early in the season to double-teams from the opposition, caused by Washington's absence, Witten has become Clausen's favorite target.

Witten, 6-5 and 265 pounds, says that improved route running and better knowledge of the Volunteers offense have helped him become a threat.

"The first three or four games were really frustrating for me," said Witten. "But I've gotten better now and I'm starting to react a little better to it. It's tough. But you've just got to work on your routes a little more in practice because double coverage in college, it's pretty tough to get open on those guys."

As if he isn't going to have enough responsibility trying to contain the Volunteer's running game, Miami junior linebacker Jonathan Vilma is looking forward to the challenge of trying to defend Witten.

"It's not anything different," Vilma said. "He's a big guy who can run a little bit, but I've played against a lot of good tight ends." Sophomore receiver Tony Brown is second on the Volunteers with 27 receptions and 313 yards, while Troy Fleming has 15 catches and 110 yards. Derrick Tinsley also has 15 receptions.

FAMILIAR FACES: Saturday's game will reunite plenty of former high school teammates now playing on opposite sides. Tennessee's Tony Brown and Jomo Fagan played with Miami's Mark Gent, Anthony Wollschlager and Chris Napoli at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale. UT receiver Jonathan Wade, from Shreveport, La., attended Evangel High school with UM quarterback Brock Berlin. Rashad Baker and Jamaal Green are both graduates of Woodrow Wilson High in Camden, N. J.

"We recruited many of the same players," said Coker. "I tried to recruit Cedric (Houston) out of Arkansas to our school here and obviously he went to Tennessee. I know the players they are playing with and I know the type of talent they have."

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