Even the high-scoring Vol teams of the recent past found the going tough against quality defenses.
• Tennessee scored 52 points on Texas Tech in '97 but only 22 on South Carolina and 17 on Vanderbilt.
• Tennessee scored 56 points on Kentucky in '99 but only 17 on Memphis and 21 on Alabama.
• Tennessee scored 70 points on Louisiana-Monroe in 2000 but only 10 on Georgia, 17 on South Carolina, 19 each on Southern Miss and Memphis.
• Tennessee scored 49 points on Memphis in 2001 but only 13 on Arkansas and 17 on South Carolina.
Clearly, offensive fireworks is as much a product of a porous defense as it is a potent offense. And, so far in 2003, the Vols haven't faced any porous defenses.
''There were times in the past when you could look at a piece of tape and say, 'OK, we'll score 35 or 40 against these guys,' '' Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said this week. ''But the last couple of years you flip on the tape and you say, 'Man, I hope we can get 20.' ''
Odds are, Tennessee won't be padding its offensive stats this Saturday against Georgia. The Bulldogs might have the best defense the Vols will face all season. Mark Richt's crew shut out Clemson 30-0, beat Middle Tennessee State 29-10, hammered South Carolina 31-7 and had Alabama down 35-10 before surrendering some cheap points late and winning 35-23. Even in its only loss, Georgia played well defensively, losing 17-10 at LSU.
It's no wonder that when Sanders speaks of this weekend's game, he says, ''It's going to be a challenge.''
One challenge will protecting quarterback Casey Clausen. Georgia defenders put two Alabama QBs out of action last weekend, so keeping Clausen out of harm's way will be a high priority for the Vols this weekend.
''It's ALWAYS a priority because Casey's so valuable to our offense and what we're doing,'' Sanders said. ''We learned a lot about that last year (when Clausen missed 2 1/2 games with shoulder and ankle injuries). We've GOT to take care of him. He's got to take care of himself, too, by getting rid of the ball on time.''
One thing's for certain: If Tennessee is averaging a mere 22.5 points per game WITH Clausen, that average is sure to drop WITHOUT him ... unless the Vols can add some UNLVs and Texas Techs to the schedule in a big hurry.