'A man's game'

The Tennessee Vols are about to face an uphill battle against a downhill foe.

After being fooled and schooled by an assortment of finesse offenses in Games 1 through 6, Big Orange defenders will encounter an old-fashioned power attack when seventh-ranked Alabama visits Neyland Stadium this Saturday night.

"It's a lot of fun as a defender," senior defensive end Chris Walker said, "to know you can put your hand in the ground, just come off the ball and play."

It may not be so "fun" once the Tide's downhill running game starts slamming Tennessee between the tackles. That's a scary prospect for a defense that allows 4.1 yards per carry and 153.5 rushing yards per game. The fact first-team defensive tackle Montori Hughes is doubtful due to an ankle injury makes the Vol outlook even bleaker.

"It's going to hurt us for sure, but we still have some good D-tackles," senior linebacker Nick Reveiz said. "Victor Thomas is working really hard and Joe Ayers just battles his butt off."

Still, the absence of the 305-pound Hughes looms large against a Tide offense that features all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

"They've got two great running backs, and they're going to try to pound the ball," Reveiz said. "We just have to hold our gaps. I feel like this is going to be a man's game. You look across the line, look them in the eye and know it's going to be a battle."

Reveiz's use of the phrase "a man's game" is appropriate. Alabama's approach to offensive football is full-throttle macho. The Tide all but says: "We're coming right at you. Try and stop us."

This strategy could exploit an undersized Vol front four. With Hughes hobbling, Tennessee will start senior Victor Thomas (6-3, 293) and junior Malik Jackson (6-5, 265) at defensive tackle. Redshirt freshman walk-on Joseph Ayers (6-3, 262) will be the top reserve.

"We need them to hold up as long as they can," head coach Derek Dooley said following Wednesday's practice. "Then we go to (little-used reserves) Rae Sykes and Art Jeffery."

The coach added that if Hughes plays at all vs. Bama "It will be a minimal, limited role and, odds are, it won't be very productive."

Gang-tackling projects to be a big key against Bama, which boasts two of the NCAA's premier rushers in Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Expecting one defender to bring down either of them is asking a lot.

"The reality is, you can't sit there and put it on one guy," Dooley said. "To put it on him, you're fooling yourself because more times than not he's going to make one guy miss in space ... I don't care how good a tackler you are."

Ingram won the Heisman Trophy last December, yet Richardson is considered an even better runner by some observers. Regardless, their brilliance makes life a lot easier for Bama's offensive line.

"You have heard me say this – that a good back makes an offensive line," Dooley said. "I've always felt that way. When you have good backs, they make guys miss. Then what happens is, it generates yards and it generates juice. The O-line gets more confident; they play faster and more physical."

That must be a frightening thought ... Alabama playing even more physical.

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