By: Randy Moore
Tennessee and Marshall have a common opponent this football season ...Miami.
The difference is that Tennessee plays Miami of Florida, whereas Marshall plays Miami of Ohio. That pretty well sums up the difference in the two teams: UT is a big-time program that plays mostly champs. Marshall is a mid-major that plays mostly chumps.
When the Thundering Herd tries to run with the big dogs, the results are generally disastrous. For instance, Marshall played one top-notch program last fall, suffering a 47-21 spanking at the hands of Virginia Tech. The Herd can expect a similar drubbing this Saturday against Tennessee. Even head coach Bob Pruett seems to recognize this.
''Tennessee can assault you and knock you down,'' he said. ''We certainly didn't do a very good job against that last year down at Virginia Tech.''
Although Marshall has enjoyed remarkable success throwing the football in recent years, quarterback Stan Hill will discover one indisputable fact in Saturday's game at Neyland Stadium: You can't throw the ball flat on your back. The return of end Constantin Ritzmann and linebacker Kevin Burnett from 2002 injuries has put the bite back in Tennessee's pass rush.
''Certainly, the niche in throwing the football is you've got to be able to protect,'' Pruett conceded. ''Tennessee presents some huge problems for you, as far as protecting the passer. If we can't protect the passer, we certainly won't be able to throw the ball.''
Here are five more reasons Tennessee will win handily:
1) Tennessee won comfortably in Game 1, despite an uncharacteristically poor effort from quarterback Casey Clausen. The Ice Man should bounce back in a big way this week.
2) The Vol offensive line checks in at 6-6 305, 6-4 305, 6-2 300, 6-3 300 and 6-7 310, so it should dominate a Marshall front four that goes 6-0 246, 6-3 288, 6-0, 275 and 6-2, 224.
3) Big Orange backs averaged nearly 6 yards per carry vs. Fresno, so Marshall will mass to stop the run. Result: Big days for Vol wideouts James Banks, Mark Jones and Tony Brown.
4) The Thundering Herd committed five turnovers last weekend vs. Hofstra but still prevailed. If Marshall commits five turnovers Saturday, this game will turn into a Tennessee Waltz.
5) Marshall may be looking ahead to next weekend's game with Toledo. (Sorry about the cheap shot but I couldn't resist.)
Marshall's faint upset hopes are based on the fact Tennessee is coming off an 8-5 season in 2002. Of course, the Vols would've gone 11-1 or 12-0 if they'd played Marshall's '02 schedule -- Appalachian State, Virginia Tech, Central Florida, Kent State, Buffalo, Troy State, Central Michigan, Akron, Miami (Ohio), Ohio University and Ball State.
Moreover, UT players believe last fall was a fluke and that they're back on track in 2003. Pruett concedes the point.
''I think Tennessee is back now to where they're the best team in the SEC,'' he said. ''I think they're ready to come back and start challenging for the SEC championship and possibly a national championship.''
If that sounds like a poor-mouthing coach downplaying his team's chances, it isn't. Pruett admits that the Vols play at a level the Thundering Herd merely aspires to.
''Certainly, we'd like to model ourselves after such great programs as Tennessee, Nebraska and those folks,'' he said. ''If we're going to continue to progress, we've got to get in those arenas and see what it's like.
''When you get in those arenas, sometimes you take your lumps. We've done very well against middle-of-the-pack teams -- South Carolina, Clemson, BYU and Michigan State. We played them very competitively. But when you step up to that upper-echelon, that's another chore.''
He'll find out just how much of a chore when the Herd thunders into Neyland Stadium Saturday at 4 p.m.
Making a case for Thundering Herd beating Tennessee.
By: Jeffery Stewart
It might easier making a case for Gary Coleman being elected governor of California than it is Marshall upsetting Tennessee, but politics and football are both vibrant breeding grounds for the unpredictable. For instance: Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota without a major party affiliation and Memphis beat Tennessee with Peyton Manning at quarterback. Over the last three decades the Vols have lost to Duke more than once, to Vanderbilt more than once, to Army, to Rutgers and North Texas State. So losing to a Marshall team that has compiled a 60-12 record since moving up to Division I in 1997 is not beyond the realm of possibility. Here's what would have to happen for the Thundering Herd to pull a shocker on Saturday.
(1) The football isn't round and doesn't bounce true. Marshall is plus-40 in turnover ratio since 1997. Over that same span, Tennessee is a plus-19 in turnover ratio, which means the Thundering Herd is twice as likely, statistically, to force a turnover than it is to commit one in Saturday's game. Turnovers are the most essential element to pulling an upset and UT's season opener demonstrated how a minus-two turnover ratio could keep a game a lot closer than it should have been. What would a minus-five ratio mean? Last year Tennessee was minus-four in turnovers against Alabama and lost 34-14 at home despite entering the game as a two-point favorite. That's a 22-point swing on the line. Tennessee is a 20-point favorite over Marshall. You do the math.
(2) Last year when Casey Clausen struggled it was attributed to injuries, a lack of protection and the absence of proven pass catchers. Last Saturday he was healthy, received excellent protection and the receiving corps stepped up with a strong performance, but he still struggled, making both physical and mental mistakes. The last outstanding game he had was the six overtime affair against Arkansas in which he connected on 19 of 28 for 291 yards. Over his last 12 games he started, Clausen has a lowly touchdown-to-interception ratio of 13-to-9. Over his college career, Peyton Manning threw for 89 touchdowns against 33 interceptions. As a sophomore, he had a remarkable 22-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio or 5.5 touchdowns thrown for every interception. Sure it's not really fair to compare Clausen to Manning, but he has been ever since he became the starter midway through his freshman season. So did Clausen merely have a poor outing against Fresno State or is he in a slump? Or have defensive coordinators detected problems he has reading certain coverages and are effectively disguising them? You have to wonder, especially when the Bulldogs gave him so much trouble after having nine months to break down film of Tennessee. Another poor performance could open the doors for an upset.
(3) Marshall is catching Tennessee between a successful opener in which the Vols threw off the shackles of last season's struggles and an upcoming revenge contest against hated rival Florida. Will the Vols have the focus they need to play near peak efficiency or will they being looking two weeks ahead to a contest that figures to be a titanic battle? The Thundering Herd could close the gap if Tennessee isn't ready to rumble. True, Marshall has an upcoming game against rival Toledo, but it's players have also heard a lot of stinging criticism about not being about to hang with big-time opponents. That reality could provide a ton of incentive coming into Saturday's contest.
(4) Marshall has a history of good receivers and this year is no exception. Both Darius Watts and Josh Davis topped 1,000 yards in receptions last year while 6-4, 260-pound tight end Jason Rader, a transfer from Georgia who was rated the nation's No. 6 prospect at this position coming out of high school, projects as one of the country's best. Of course, there's not a Chad Pennington or Byron Leftwich to throw them the football, but Stan Hill is capable, especially if he gets time to go through his progressions. This isn't a team devoid of talent. It has an O-line that averages 300 pounds per position and a running back, Franklin Wallace, who has 4.48 speed and a 425-pound bench press. It's a well-conceived offense that put up 21 points vs. Virginia Tech and 38 vs. Louisville in 2002 and 24 vs. Michigan State in 2000. By the way, the contests against VTU and MSU were both on the road and in second game of the season. Add it up and it won't be an easy offense to contain.
(5) Marshall head coach Bob Pruett knows how to put together solid game plans that exploit an opponent's weaknesses. In fact, he was Florida's defensive coordinator the last time the Vols were shutout — 31-0 in 1994. Obviously he doesn't have the level of personnel at Marshall he had then, but he has enough talent to make life miserable for Tennessee if a few breaks fall his way.
(6) The kicking game tends to be the great equalizer in football and Marshall has a history of excellent special teams play. Tennessee should become solid in the kicking game, but it wasn't last week and may not be this week. The last time the Vols had a major disparity in this phase of the game, Georgia scored an upset in Knoxville.