My pick: Tennessee 34, Marshall 14

Listening to Marshall coach Bob Pruett this week, you'd think Tennessee's offensive backfield is the second coming of the Four Horsemen and its defensive front is on par with the Fearsome Foursome of NFL fame.

Listening to Marshall coach Bob Pruett this week, you'd think Tennessee's offensive backfield is the second coming of the Four Horsemen and its defensive front is on par with the Fearsome Foursome of NFL fame.

Pruett's assessment of his Marshall squad, meanwhile, made the Thundering Herd sound like a junior high squad preparing to face the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucs.

Clearly, he's trying to get the Vols so overconfident that they'll overlook Marshall.

Nice try, Coach, but it won't work.

You can't give the 2003 Vols an overinflated ego because the memory of that 30-3 Peach Bowl loss to Maryland is still too fresh. Tennessee's players and coaches learned haven't forgotten what happens when a team plays with no emotion, no focus and no respect for its opponent.

That's why Tennessee won't be looking past Marshall to Game 3 with Florida. The Vols I spoke with this week seem just as focused as they were for last weekend's opener. A 24-6 defeat of an injury-riddled Fresno State team -- though impressive in many ways -- did not cause any of the UT players' heads to swell. Everyone's helmet still fits.

And that's why Tennessee will win. Marshall is a pesky opponent with some good skill-position players and a frisky run defense. But the Thundering Herd could only win this game if the Vols come out flat ... and I just don't see that happening. Last year, maybe ... not this year.

Marshall will stack the line of scrimmage and challenge Tennessee to throw, hoping Casey Clausen will be as erratic as he was last weekend. He won't be. I see Casey passing for 250 yards or so this week, with a couple of 50-yard completions somewhere along the way.

Receiver James Banks will continue the coming-out party he began last weekend and post another big day. Mark Jones will bounce back after a one-catch effort vs. Fresno, and Tony Brown will produce his usual five or six clutch catches. Super-talented Derrick Tinsley is due to break out ... and I expect that will happen this weekend. C.J. Fayton should have a few moments, as well.

Eventually, UT's passing game will force Marshall to loosen up at the line of scrimmage, providing some running lanes for Cedric Houston. He probably won't match his 161-yard performance of last weekend but I'm still expecting a 100-yard effort.

Last weekend Tennessee's defense dominated a Fresno State offense that was without its top two blockers and its No. 1 quarterback. Marshall has all of its key people healthy but I don't see the Herd faring a whole lot better than Fresno did. Vol linebackers Kevin Burnett and Kevin Simon have had an extra week to shed the rust they gathered while missing spring practice with injuries. They'll be even better this Saturday than they were last Saturday.

Tennessee's pass rush completely disrupted Fresno's air attack last weekend. Marshall's pass protection should be significantly better, which means UT's secondary will get its first real test this week. I suspect Vol DBs will be burned a few times, which is why I'm projecting a couple of TDs for Marshall.

Many of Tennessee's fans already are looking ahead to Game 3 vs. Florida. Fortunately, Tennessee's players are not. They seem business-like and focused. Marshall will provide some competition but the Herd just doesn't have the horses to hang with the Vols.

My pick: Tennessee 34, Marshall 14.


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