Tennessee Early Season Preview

Tennessee players are the first to admit that leadership and discipline were missing ingredients from last year's team. A deluge of injuries compounded the problem. The 8–5 campaign of 2002 was Tennessee's worst since 1988, the Vols lost to Alabama for the first time since 1994 and the 30–3 loss to Maryland in the Peach Bowl has left a foul aftertaste ...

And now coach Phillip Fulmer needs to replace six of his starting defensive front seven, including the team's top two tacklers. End Constantin Ritzmann and linebacker Kevin Burnett were projected starters who spent all or most of last season on the shelf and are back to bolster the defensive front. Free safety Rashad Baker returns after picking off five enemy aerials in '02.

Quarterback Casey Clausen played through injuries and still completed 62.6 percent of his passes. But the 2003 Volunteers should stick mostly to the ground, with tailbacks Cedric Houston, Jabari Davis and Gerald Riggs pounding the ball inside. Four returning starters in the offensive line will pave the way.

Casualty count: Nineteen UT starters missed a total of 71 games due to injury in 2002.

Lowest high: Cedric Houston's 779 rushing yards in 2002 was the Vols' lowest team-leading total in 14 years.

Unfamiliar ground: Tennessee finished 85th nationally in total offense last season.

Returning starters: 8 offense, 4 defense, punter

2002 results: 8–5 (5–3 SEC)

Bowl Game: Lost to Maryland 30-3 in Peach Bowl

2003 Schedule
A. 30 Fresno State
S. 6 Marshall
S. 20 at Florida
S. 27 South Carolina
O. 4 at Auburn
O. 11 Georgia
O. 25 at Alabama
N. 1 Duke
N. 8 at Miami
N. 15 Mississippi State
N. 22 Vanderbilt
N. 29 at Kentucky

Schedule Analysis: Fresno State will not be a pushover in the opener, especially considering Tennessee is breaking in a fairly new defense against a team that returns nine starters on offense and has dangerous athletes at wide receiver. The Sept. 20 game at Florida will be its usual ultra-challenge, and road games at Auburn and Miami are also beasts, and a road trip to Tuscaloosa will not be fun. Georgia comes to Knoxville this year, and the Bulldogs are starting to have the Vols' number with two straight wins. So we see five significant challenges as the Vols try to regain their Top 10 status. Tennessee will have to win three of those to accomplish that goal.

Final Word: Defensively, the Vols will be tough if Burnett and Ritzmann return to form and they can find one more corner. Offensively, the concern is obviously at wide receiver, where Clausen truly does not have a No. 1 option at this point. The running game should be solid and Clausen will look to have a break-out year at quarterback. With the schedule being as difficult as it is, the Vols may have a better team than last year but not have the record to show it.

The South Carolina Take: They have to believe! Lou Holtz's Gamecocks have played the Vols head-to-head for four consecutive seasons. Two of those games were very very winnable - both the 2000 and 2001 contests were so close that they could have gone either way but not for mental breakdowns where the Gamecocks lost confidence in their ability to get-over the Vol hump.

Kelly Washington was a distraction for the Vols last year and combined with the injuries, Tennessee was a vulnerable football team. 2002 was the perfect season for USC to finally get their licks in on UT but the Gamecocks failed to capitalize at home. This season the task will be much tougher with SC having to go to Neyland to try to break the winning streak Tennessee currently holds over the Gamecock heads. A winning streak used in the recruiting wars on a regular basis.

The Volunteers' Achilles' heel if you will this season, is their lack of depth at quarterback. If Casey Clausen goes down they are in trouble. To offset this expect Phil Fulmer to utilize their running game more in an effort to keep Clausen out of harm's way as much as possible.

South Carolina's strategy will have to be to first of all convince themselves that they are capable of winning this football game. Next they will have to execute a defensive gameplan that limits Tennessee's ground attack and forces Clausen to go to the air. This is where it gets tricky - no fun for 'some' faint-of-heart Gamecock faithful.

Casey Clausen is deadly throwing the deep ball. But he needs ample time to find his receivers and deliver ... 3 to 5 seconds. If the Gamecock defense is able to limit the UT rushing game, force Clausen to the air attack, and then bring enough pressure so as to hinder Clausen's efforts and prevent the homerun long ball .... then the Gamecocks have a chance. A very good chance. Because one homerun ball might be enough on the road to seriously damage any confidence USC would bring into the game - the Gamecocks will be walking a tightrope gambling on their ability to get to the Vol signal caller.

Play Sound Offense: Conversely the Gamecock offense has to 'think ball-control'. They will have to pick up the tough yards on the ground and not depend upon their passing game against a very good Tennessee secondary and sound pass rush. In other words South Carolina needs to control the clock from bell to bell, limit turnovers especially on long drives, and they must not allow themselves any lapses in judgement. No stupid mistakes. The Gamecocks need to never put themselves in a position to have to play catch-up against Tennessee in Neyland. Tennessee's defensive line is relatively inexperienced and if there has ever been a season where the Gamecock offensive line should have the advantage over the UT defensive line - this is it.

Favorable Match-Ups: Yet it all comes back to defense for the Gamecocks. South Carolina has the defensive line studs and linebacker hosses to make life uncomfortable for the Vols. UT faithful are going to be shocked at just what kind of big physical team Lou Holtz has built and is bringing to Neyland this season. The Gamecock trenchmen may be young but they are very talented and promisingly deep. Five Garnet & Black defensive ends, George Gause (Jr 6-5 270), Moe Thompson (So 6-4 280), Jason Capers (Jr 6-5 265) and Charles Silas (Jr 6-6 270), and Fran Person (RSo 6-6 270) missions' will be to GET-TO Clausen and knock him out of there if at all possible. Eight defensive tackles, Darrell Shropshire (Jr 6-3 303), Preston Thorne (Jr 6-1 313), Freddy Saint Preux (Jr 6-5 305), Brandon Schweitzer (RFr 6-3 290), Randy Jackson (Sr 6-4 299), Eric Stroman (So 6-4 300), Chris Tucker (Jr 6-4 305) and Stanley Doughty (Fr 6-3 330) will be out to stuff the Vol run up the middle. And seven big fast physical Gamecock linebackers, Ricardo Hurley (So 6-3 233) , Lance Laury (So 6-3 231), Marcus Lawrence (Jr 6-3 236), Jeremiah Garrison (Sr 6-1 233), DeAdrian Coley (Jr 6-4 240), Rod Thomas (Sr 6-1 245) and especially Darel Slay (Sr 6-4 260) will be blitzing all afternoon.

If they get to Clausen, and if UT is forced to go to their young back-up signal caller 'Banks' ... then SC wins the battle from that point forward. A lot will depend upon USC's secondary and whether or not the coaches feel comfortable playing man coverage, enough so as to allow at least a part-time use of a five man front on defense. The five man front is an alignment that could conceivably shut down the UT rushing game and allow that extra man to blitz, especially when throwing in another one of our big safeties, when Clausen finds himself in a passing situation be it on second or third and long.

Scheduling: The Gamecocks get two breaks in 2003 that they have not had the luxury of experiencing, when facing Tennessee, prior to this season. The first is that they travel to Knoxville earlier than normal this season. Tennessee traditionally takes a couple of months to really get on a roll. Secondly, the Gamecocks will face the Vols after having played UAB, while UT will be coming off a tough road game at Florida and a week before they have to travel to Auburn then Georgia then Alabama.

The Bottom Line: Getting pressure on Clausen, stuffing the UT running game, not allowing the homerun ball, and controlling the clock on the SC offensive side of the ball ... those are the keys to winning in Knoxville this season for the Gamecocks.

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