Downhill defense

Asked what attributes make Alabama tailback Trent Richardson so difficult to tackle, Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox deadpanned: "How long have you got?"

That pretty well sums up why the ground attack the Vols will face this Saturday at second-ranked Alabama is even more formidable than the top-ranked LSU ground attack that gashed the Big Orange for 260 rushing yards last Saturday.

Whereas the Tigers' downhill running game featured a promising runner in freshman Spencer Ware, Alabama's downhill running game features the NCAA's premier runner in Richardson, a 5-11, 224-pound junior who boasts an incredible blend of speed and power.

"His legs are like tree trunks," Wilcox said. "He's quick and elusive. He can run you over just as quick as he can make you miss. He's a tough guy ... got a tough mentality, runs violent. He's got a little stutter move where, if you get people to stop his feet, he can beat 'em with speed. He's very, very, very good."

Still, Tennessee's defenders are optimistic. They believe they learned some lessons facing LSU's smash-mouth attack last weekend that will help them when they face Alabama's this weekend.

"We learned that we can stop it when we're physical enough," senior linebacker Austin Johnson said. "What we've got to work on is putting a whole game together. We've really got to put a second half together."

Tennessee did a terrific job of stopping LSU's running game in the first half last Saturday, limiting the Tigers to 64 yards on 19 carries. LSU cranked it up after intermission, however, rushing for 196 yards on 33 carries. The Vols learned a lesson from that experience, too.

"Just the physicality we've got to play with," sophomore nose tackle Daniel Hood said. "LSU hit us for four quarters, and we know Bama's going to do the same thing. Being in a game like that, we have the experience. Now we've just got to repeat it."

Senior defensive tackle Malik Jackson touched on the same theme.

"What we learned is that you've got to play gap football for four quarters," he said. "They wear you down but you've got to be persistent, be diligent, be smart and stay in your gap. Don't try to play outside the defense."

It's worth noting that Tennessee has one advantage versus Bama that it didn't have versus LSU. The Tide gets its rushing yards from one position (tailback), whereas the Tigers got theirs from two (tailback and quarterback). Ware gained 80 yards on 23 carries but it was QB Jordan Jefferson who hurt Tennessee most, gaining 73 yards on just 14 rushes. That means the Vols can focus on stopping the tailback this weekend, whereas they had to divide their attention between the tailback and the quarterback last weekend.

"That's a better situation," junior defensive back Prentiss Waggner said, "since we don't have to worry about the quarterback draw or the zone option or the speed option."

Jackson agrees up to a point, noting: "We know the quarterback's not running, and that helps us, but we've got to key on No. 3 (Richardson) because he'll break it outside. We saw what he did against Ole Miss and the other teams he's played."

What Richardson did against Ole Miss last week was amazing — 17 rushes for 183 yards and four touchdowns. That performance has a lot of folks saying he's better than Bama predecessor Mark Ingram, who won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 2009 and was a first-round NFL Draft pick last April.

"I would say so," Johnson said. "Trent Richardson kind of developed into his own early, and I think he brings a little bit more than Mark Ingram did. Mark Ingram's obviously an unbelievable back, a first-round pick, but I think Trent Richardson is going to be that type of back for them and I think he's better.... Trent's definitely an elite back."

Waggner thinks so, too.

"On film he looks like he's in a league of his own," Waggner said. "He's a premier guy, has a pretty good chance of winning the Heisman."

And that's why the Alabama ground game the Vols face this weekend in Tuscaloosa may be even more challenging than the LSU ground game they faced last weekend.

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