UT vs FL

Last season, Tennessee ranked last in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game. Entering the Florida game, the Vols are 11th in pass defense.

That's not a true indicator of where Tennessee's secondary ranks.

You'll get that picture Saturday night at Florida Field when the Vols take on the best passer and the best receivers in the SEC.

Chris Leak has completed almost 70 percent of his passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns in two games. His pass efficiency ranking is No. 7 in the country.

Chad Jackson leads the SEC with 15 catches for 243 yards and five touchdowns. He's Florida's best receiver since Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony, maybe the school's best ever. Last season, he averaged 22.3 yards on 29 catches.

Dallas Baker has 10 catches in two games, Andre Caldwell eight. Last season, Baker averaged 15.8 yards on 26 catches and scored five touchdowns. Caldwell had 43 catches for 689 yards.

Make no mistake, Florida is the best passing team in the SEC.

Is Tennessee's secondary up to the challenge?

It wasn't last year. Leak hit 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns, including an 81-yarder to Jackson. The Vols were outgained 421 yards to 403, had three turnovers to one and allowed Florida to convert 9 of 15 third-downs. Yet, UT somehow found a way to win, 30-28.

With similar defensive numbers, Tennessee won't win this time, not in The Swamp.

UT's secondary will be in the spotlight, on display, on an island. The defensive backs didn't exactly pass the first test, allowing UAB quarterback Darrell Hackney to hit 27 of 38 passes for 282 yards.

Now, Tennessee is going against a spread-option offense that can strike from anywhere on the field. Defensive backs not only must play well in pass coverage, they've got to help in run support against the option.

What's the toughest thing about defensing the spread-option?

``Being disciplined, being in the right place," said UT cornerback Jason Allen. ``Making sure we get alignments and assignments down correctly each and every play."

Sometimes, assignment football can take away a team's aggressiveness.

``You can't allow that to happen," Allen said. ``You've still got to be aggressive each and every play. You've got to be physical, hit their players in the mouth."

While Jackson is Florida's most dangerous receiver, the Vols won't flip flop Allen to make sure he's guarding Jackson.

``Jason will probably stay on one side of the field," UT secondary coach Larry Slade said. ``the thing you can't have, you just can't have busts. It seems to get a good theory: `Hey, we'll put him over her on this guy or that guy, and you get a bust. When you bust against these guys, they're home runs, they're touchdowns."

Slade said Florida makes big plays off busts and athleticism.

``Sometimes, they jus run by you," Slade said. ``We talked to the guys at Louisiana Tech (which lost 41-3 last Saturday at Gainesville). They were in a three-deep coverage, but a receiver ran by them. They have that kind of speed."

Tennessee is hoping to avoid busts with Allen and a youthful supporting cast. Strong safety Antwan Stewart, a converted cornerback, has made six career starts and was benched at halftime of the UAB game for missed assignments. Demetrius Morley is a true freshman. Free safety Jonathan Hefney is a true sophomore and a converted cornerback. Junior Corey Campbell, suspended for the opener, has eight career starts.

Slade, more than any UT coach, has seen the spread option, thanks to his days as secondary coach at Texas A&M. The Aggies regularly faced Kansas State with Michael Bishop running the spread option.

``A lot of big plays come off option fakes, option passes, play-action passes," Slade said. ``In the first two games, Florida made a lot of big plays off that."

If Tennessee can stop the run, play-action is less effective. If Tennessee can stop the run, it can force Florida into passing situations and tee off on Leak. If Tennessee can stop the run, it can control tempo.

But stopping the run sometimes requires committing an extra defender at the line of scrimmage. Do that and Florida might find favorable matchups in the passing game.

As Slade said: ``You want to stop the run but you better do a great job stopping the deep ball."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories