Tennessee has struggled to a 3-4 start in the 2012 season and is 0-4 in conference play, but it isn't because of the Volunteer offense. Mostly.
The Vols are third in the conference in yards per game and passing yards per game, and fifth in points per game.
"Tennessee does a great job running the football, but what they want to do is throw the football," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "They do a good job spreading you out and they stretch the field more than any team we've played. They're going to put us in space so I think this is by far the biggest game for our secondary."
Quarterback Tyler Bray is tied with Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray for third in the conference with 1,914 yards and will likely go over the 2,000-yard mark Saturday against Carolina. He is also tied with Murray and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron for first in the conference with 16 touchdown passes. What Bray has not done is protect the football. He has thrown nine interceptions on the season, eight of which came in the four losses.
"He does a good of getting rid of the football," Ward said. "Sometimes that's his own fault and he throws it when he shouldn't and throws it to the other team. We have to play good, tight coverage and when we don't put pressure on him and don't play good, tight coverage then he's going to complete some passes."
Bray has two outstanding receivers in Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. Hunter has 567 yards and four touchdown receptions while Patterson has 340 yards and three touchdowns.
"I think they are the best two receivers on one team in the SEC," Ward said. "They're both averaging over 14 yards per reception, both have big-play abilities and are guys that can play the ball very well. They're going to present a challenge for us on the perimeter."
Bray usually has plenty of time to throw the ball with a talented Volunteer offensive line. Tennessee has given up just three sacks all season. They're big, strong and physical.
"They're similar to Florida, but I think they're bigger and more physical," Ward said. "They're in between Florida and LSU. They're big guys that can run block and pass block and they're physical. I think they're right there with Florida and LSU."
It will be a battle of strengths as the Vol offensive line tries to keep its impressive streak of not allowing a defensive lineman to record sack against a Carolina defensive line that has 23 sacks on the season.
"We have 29 (sacks) and all of them have come from d-linemen except six. I like the match-up," Ward said.
Kelcy Quarles is unavailable as he continues to nurse a shoulder injury suffered on a cheap shot in the LSU game.
"He's improved and he's done some running around on the field the last couple of days with the trainers," Ward said. "They feel really good that he will be back with the off week and ready to play against Arkansas."
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