UT has no rushing offense or rushing defense

Tennessee's football program has always prided itself on its ability to (a) run the ball and (b) stop the run. In Saturday night's 28-21 loss at Auburn, however, the Vols did neither.

The Vols finished with just 4 rushing yards on 16 attempts as Auburn clogged the line of scrimmage and dared the Vols to throw. On his Sunday teleconference, head coach Phillip Fulmer was asked if the Vols have become one-dimensional ... i.e. -- too reliant on the passing attack.

''I don't think we are,'' he said. ''We got a little bit going (offensively) with the no-huddle just before halftime and seemed to get them (Tigers) out of rhythm. They were doing some pretty exotic things against us.''

The good news: With Auburn stacking the line to stop the run, Casey Clausen threw a career-high 47 passes, amassing 355 yards on a career-high 30 completions.

Fulmer admitted that Tennessee was not physical ''to the degree we want to be,'' but added: ''If you've got a bunch of people in the box and you're having success throwing the ball, we're going to throw the football.''

While a strong passing attack can sometimes offset a struggling ground game, there is no antidote for a porous run defense. Auburn's Cadillac Williams ran for 185 yards and the Tigers amassed more than 264 rushing yards as a team. South Carolina, led by freshman Demetris Summers, ran for more than 200 yards a week earlier.

''I think 1997 was the last time we gave up 200 rushing yards in back-to-back games,'' Fulmer noted, subsequently adding that he is ''concerned'' by the defense's sudden inability to stop the run.

''We missed more tackles than we should -- at the line of scrimmage, the linebackers and the secondary,'' he said. ''We've got to get ourselves in better position and finish plays (tackles).''

At times, Auburn opened gaping holes in Tennessee's defense. Fulmer conceded that things got ugly in the trenches for his team. Fourteen Tiger runs gained eight yards or more.

''Yeah, we were not very good at times,'' he said. ''Sometimes it was alignments, sometimes assignments and sometimes they just bullied us out of there.''

Moreover, Tennessee's offensive line seemed just as overmatched as its defensive line.

When asked how the same O-line which looked overpowering vs. Fresno State and Marshall in Games 1 and 2 could appear so inept in Games 4 and 5, Fulmer replied: ''The last couple of games we've played tougher people but we should be playing better than we are upfront.''

The head man said not all of the blame for Tennessee's paltry rushing total could be laid at the feet of the blocking front, however.

''All that goes together,'' he said. ''You can't just point to one area of the team and say, 'They lost the ballgame.' We can be more consistent in the line but also at other positions.''

Still, Fulmer conceded that when a team rushes for just 4 yards, the O-linemen are going to catch a lot of heat.

''They should be ready for criticism,'' he said. ''When you don't rush the ball very well, that's the first place people look.''

Now 4-1, the Vols dropped from No. 7 to No. 13 in the new Associated Press poll. They get a chance for redemption this Saturday night, hosting No. 8 Georgia, a team which has beaten Tennessee three years in succession.

''This one's as big as it gets, when Tennessee and Georgia play,'' Fulmer said.

The question is: How will UT's player respond following their first setback?

''I think our kids will be all right,'' Fulmer said. ''They've been listening and learning each week. I wish we could've played better (vs. Auburn) but we did play hard.... The kids are disappointed but they understand the challange in front of them and the opportunity in front of them. I think they look forward to this game.''

If there is any consolation for the Vols, it is this: A win over Georgia would put Tennessee in control of its own destiny as far as winning the SEC East. The Vols would have one fewer league loss and own the tie-breaker of having won in head-to-head competition.

''The opportunity for them is out there,'' Fulmer said. ''The only thing they have to be concerned about is this one and what we've got to do to get ready for Georgia.''


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