Tough test for Vol offense

The safest bet of the week is that Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders won't be overconfident heading into the Georgia Dome this weekend.

Sanders is preparing his Vol attack to face an Auburn defense that ranks No. 1 among SEC teams in rushing defense (95.5 yards per game), No. 3 among SEC teams in pass defense (171.5 yards per game) and No. 1 NATIONALLY in scoring defense (9.6 points per game).

All Sanders has to do is figure out a way to exploit this stingy stop unit ... using a third-team quarterback.

''When you go through an 11-game SEC season playing the teams they've played and you're only giving up 9.6 points per game, that's really impressive,'' Sanders said.

The key to success? Actually, there are a lot of keys.

''We're going to have to really play well,'' Sanders said. ''Obviously, the quarterback (Rick Clausen) is going to have to play well. The receivers are going to have to step up -- the line, backs, everybody.

''It's not like you turn on the film and say, 'OK, here's where we pick on them. Here's where we try to exploit them.' It's going to take a total team effort, and we're going to have to really play well to get it done.''

Tennessee ran the ball reasonably well in the regular-season meeting, averaging a respectable 3.5 yards per carry (31 rushes for 107 yards). But the Vols fell behind early and tried to rally behind their passing game. The air attack misfired, completing just 18 of 40 passes with five interceptions. Result? A 34-10 Auburn romp.

Obviously, it will help a lot if Tennessee can stay close enough to run the ball a bit, rather than shift into an all-out passing mode in an effort to come from way behind.

''It'd be a huge benefit,'' Sanders said. ''I think their defense is really good but it's reaped the reward of being able to play from ahead a lot ... having teams behind and trying to catch up.''

Because Tennessee trailed 31-3 at halftime of the earlier meeting, the Vols felt compelled to throw on nearly every down in the final two quarters.

''I felt like the first game could've been different to a certain degree had we not changed what we did (abandoned the running game),'' Sanders said. ''I don't know if we could've come from behind and won it without changing but we felt like we had to do what we did. We put our quarterbacks in positions they weren't necessarily comfortable with (throwing every down), and they didn't handle it that well.

''If the game can stay close and you can play offense the way you really want to, it's a big benefit for you.''

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