Fast-break football

Tennessee fans needn't worry about Middle Tennessee launching any 20-play, 98-yard drives that consume 11 minutes and 35 seconds this weekend – as South Carolina did last weekend.

Because the Blue Raiders run a hurry-up offense, a 20-play, 98-yard drive would only take them around nine minutes. So, the Vols have that working in their favor as they try to snap a four-game losing streak in Saturday night's homecoming game.

Sarcasm aside, MTSU's uptempo attack could be problematical for a Vol defense that lacks both depth and experience.

"The big thing is the pace of their offense," Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said following Wednesday's practice. "They get about 90 plays a game; they run a play about every 16 seconds. They don't wait for anybody. They move the ball on everybody."

Tennessee already faced one hurry-up offense this fall, surrendering 346 total yards and 18 first downs before subduing Montana of the Football Championship Subdivision 42-16 in the opener. That experience should help when the Vols face another fast-paced attack this weekend.

"You'd hope so," Wilcox said. "Sometimes, when you haven't played it, they don't understand how fast it actually goes. It's hard to see it on film (because the dead time between plays is deleted)."

The Blue Raiders have a mere 2-5 record but they can light up a scoreboard. They hung 38 points each on Memphis and Florida Atlantic, 35 on Troy and 33 on Western Kentucky.

"These guys do it very efficiently," Wilcox said. "They get lined up, get that ball snapped quick. You've got to get your eyes right and get lined up quickly or else they'll hurt you like that."

Counting Oregon in 2010, Middle Tennessee will be the third hurry-up attack Wilcox has faced at Tennessee. He says all operate in similar fashion: Rush to the line of scrimmage, evaluate the defense, then run a play before defenders have time to shift. The Blue Raiders don't have the athletes in 2011 Oregon had in 2010 but they have a knack for playing fast.

"The tempo is probably as fast as you'll see," Wilcox said. "From some of the games we've watched and some of the TV copy you see, the tempo is very, very fast."

The hurry-up offense leaves little time for the defense to make substitutions and adjustments between plays. But there's another advantage that may be even more significant.

"The whole point," Wilcox said, "is that they wear you down and wear you down, then one guy misses a tackle and it's a big play."

Three newcomers who have cracked Tennessee's starting lineup on defense since the Montana game will get their first real taste of a hurry-up attack this weekend — juco tackle Maurice Couch, juco cornerback Izauea Lanier and freshman safety Brian Randolph. Adjusting to the fast pace could be a little tougher for them.

"It better not be tougher," Wilcox said. "They have to get lined up and play. We've been stressing it all week in practice, so they need to go out on Saturday and do it."

The coordinator characterized Tennessee's defensive play versus the hurry-up offenses of Oregon and Montana as "hot and cold," adding: "Really, it's a matter of mental conditioning … being able to go four, five, six, seven, eight, nine plays back-to-back and be on point about your alignment, assignment and execution."

Ultimately, there's nothing deceptive about MTSU's hurry-up attack. It just forces defenders to do the right thing and do it quickly.

"It's not complicated," Wilcox said. "Where it gets hard is when you've got to do it nine plays in a row, and they're going fast and changing formations, and you're changing calls.

"That's the hard part — the mental intensity and the mental stamina. That's what they test."

To see Wilcox speak to the media following Wednesday's practice, click play on the video below.


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