Something's gotta give

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Tennessee may boast the NCAA's best pass protection. South Carolina may boast the NCAA's best pass rush. That should make for some interesting trench warfare when the Vols face the Gamecocks Saturday at noon in Columbia.

Tennessee's offensive line has allowed just three sacks, which ties for second nationally in that category. Conversely, South Carolina's defensive line is largely responsible for the team's 29 sacks, a total which ranks fourth nationally.

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has accounted for 7.5 of Carolina's sacks and is widely recognized as the NCAA's premier pass rusher.

"When I was at North Carolina we tried to recruit him, like every other team, including the Green Bay Packers," first-year Vol offensive line coach Sam Pittman quipped earlier this week. "I remember Coach (Butch) Davis said at that time that Clowney had the greatest highlight film he'd ever seen of any player coming out of high school. I think it's true."

Clowney packs 256 pounds on a 6-foot-6 frame that combines explosive power with dynamic quickness.

"He's got length and he's such a great athlete," Pittman said. "He's almost like a tailback/wide receiver athlete who can flip his hips with length. If you can do that, you're going to get to the quarterback."

The task of neutralizing Clowney falls to sophomore Antonio Richardson, the Vols' 6-foot-6, 332-pound left tackle. He relishes the challenge of facing the NCAA's premier sack specialist.

"He's a good player, really fast off the edge and uses his hands well," Richardson said. "He's not a really physical guy but he's very athletic. He takes advantage of tackles who aren't as athletic and gets past 'em. It's going to be a really good challenge for us and it's going to be a really big challenge for me."

Tennessee right tackle Ja'Wuan James (70) has a tough task in front of him trying to slow down Gamecock end Devin Taylor.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
Although Richardson did a masterful job of neutralizing Georgia pass-rushing whiz Jarvis Jones in Game 5, he readily admits that Clowney poses a different type of threat.

"Jarvis Jones is more of an outside linebacker/D-end hybrid-type guy," Richardson said. "Jadeveon Clowney is a defensive end, and he's probably the best defensive end in the country the last decade. He's that good."

Vol right tackle Ja'Wuan James, a 6-foot-6, 323-pounder, has a healthy respect for Clowney, too.

"Going against the greatest pass rusher of his time is going to be good," James said. "I think I blocked him one time last year. He doesn't switch sides much, so I blocked Devin Taylor for the past two years."

Taylor, James discovered, is a great player in his own right.

"It helps that they've got two bookend guys out there rushing, so it's going to be a great game for a person who watches the trenches," the Vol junior said. "He's a big guy, about 6-8 or 6-9. I have to look up to him. He has long arms and great speed, so it's going to be a great matchup."

At 6-feet-8 and 267 pounds, Taylor is bigger than Clowney but not as explosive.

"Devin's long, too," Pittman noted. "You've got to pick your poison. You can't double both of 'em. You can chip both of 'em, which obviously is something we want to do."

Tennessee's offensive linemen clearly view their matchup with Clowney, Taylor and the rest of South Carolina's defensive front as an opportunity to make a statement.

"We're proud of our tackles, and I'm sure they're proud of their defensive ends," Pittman said. "I'm sure it'll be an exciting battle on Saturday between Ja'Wuan and Tiny and their two defensive ends. Clowney is as good as there in college football, without a doubt, and the other one's pretty good, too."

South Carolina (6-2 overall, 4-2 SEC) is favored by two touchdowns against Tennessee (3-4, 0-4). Still, Vol offensive linemen seem fired up about Saturday's game.

"Everybody needs a little juice, especially when you're down a little bit," Pittman said. "Obviously, this league won't allow you to sit around and mope because if you do you're going to get the crap beat out of you. There's a lot of pride in our room, and I'm sure there is in their D-line room."

James certainly feels a lot of pride.

"If we stick to our technique," he said, "we feel like we can block anybody."

Still, South Carolina may boast the best defensive line in college football, When reminded of this, Richardson shrugged.

"We're one of the best offensive lines in the country," he said, "so we're not worried about it."

To hear more about the Tennessee offense, check out the video interviews below:

Jim Chaney

Sam Pittman

Ja'Wuan James


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