Vols may air it out

If you like the passing game, you're probably going to like Saturday's Tennessee-Notre Dame game at Neyland Stadium. All indications are the Vols will go to the airways early and often.

Consider: • Vol running backs Gerald Riggs and Cedric Houston are banged up.

* Four starters in the Vol offensive line are hurting. Tackle Michael Munoz (concussion) and center Jason Respert (ankle) are listed as ''questionable'' for this weekend, while Cody Douglas and Arron Sears are penciled in as starters despite assorted physical problems.

Notre Dame has one of the NCAA's top rushing defenses, allowing just 99 yards per game.

• Conversely, the Fighting Irish allow a whopping 251 passing yards per game.

''Those numbers can be deceiving,'' Vol head man Phillip Fulmer said. ''They gave up some big plays.''

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders echoed that theme.

''They've given up some passing yards, but most of that was in two or three games,'' he said.

That's true. Purdue burned the Irish for 413 passing yards, Boston College 383 and Brigham Young 263. No one else has thrown for more than 240 against them.

''Purdue just lined up and threw it almost every down,'' Sanders noted. ''They made some big plays. They had a 97-yard touchdown (Kyle Orton to Taylor Stubblefield) that turned a 300-yard day into a 400-yard day.''

Fulmer's philosophy pretty much insures that Tennessee won't line up and throw it every down. But the Vols have a talented receiving corps and a strong-armed quarterback (Erik Ainge) who rallied from an awful start last week at South Carolina to complete nine of 16 passes for 109 yards and three touchdowns.

All of the above suggests Tennessee will struggle to establish a ground game and ultimately do its damage through the air. Given UT's emphasis on balance, this is not Fulmer's preference.

''We're going to have to find a way to run the football,'' he said, ''because we're not going to be one-dimensional.''

Of course, that's what he said against Alabama, and Tennessee wound up rushing for a mere 53 yards.


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