Tennessee vs. Alabama

South Carolina beat Alabama two weeks ago by throwing the football. Arkansas nearly beat Alabama four weeks ago by throwing the football.

So, if the unranked Tennessee Vols are to have any chance to beat seventh-ranked Alabama tonight at Neyland Stadium, they probably must do a good job of throwing the football.

Crunch these numbers:

- Arkansas rushed just 20 times for 64 yards (3.2 per carry) on Sept. 25 but still gave the Tide a scare before bowing 24-20. That's because Ryan Mallett completed 25 of 38 passes for 357 yards.

- South Carolina rushed 37 times for 110 yards (3.0 per carry) on Oct. 9 but still gave the Tide a 35-21 spanking. That's because Stephen Garcia completed 17 of 20 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

Alabama's run defense is virtually impregnable. The Tide hasn't allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards in 41 games, dating to Oct. 13, 2007. Conversely, with four new starters in the secondary, Bama's pass defense is a bit more vulnerable ... as Arkansas and South Carolina illustrated.

Does that mean Tennessee will throw the ball 40 times tonight? No. But it means the Vols may have to throw the ball 30 times in order to keep the chains moving and the game competitive. That prospect probably has Tennessee's receivers a little more excited than usual.

"Oh, I don't know how excited they are," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said with a chuckle. "I think they feel like they have to go out and make plays when we do throw it, whether we throw it 40 times or 20 times. They understand their role."

That role, of course, is helping Tennessee win ... whether it means catching 10 passes or blocking for 60 snaps.

"They should be excited about playing," Chaney said. "It's not so much what style of offense we go out with. To play Alabama at home should be a great opportunity, whether we throw one pass or 70 passes. Every player on this team should share the same amount of enthusiasm. It's a great rivalry and it's going to be a special day, I hope."

Everything Chaney said is true. Still, Tennessee's wideouts know that Bama is likely to stuff the run tonight and force the Vols to fill the air with footballs. And that's a prospect Vol pass catchers relish.

"I think they feel real good about it," receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. "Alabama's got a good defensive team overall - stopping the run and the pass. They play bump-and-run, so it's a challenge for our guys, and I think they're going to take that challenge."

Even with four new starters in the secondary, Bama leads the SEC in pass-defense efficiency. That's a credit to head coach Nick Saban, who might be the game's ultimate expert on defending the pass.

"Nick Saban is a secondary coach by trade," Baggett said. "He's a technician. He's a very smart football coach. He's tough, fundamentally sound and he's a great teacher."

Still, Tennessee may be able to counter some of Saban's magic. Baggett worked with him for eight years at Michigan State and for two years with the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

"After working with him for 10 years I know a few of his tricks," the Vol aide said with a smile. "Hopefully, my guys can do well against him."

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