Hyams on Game

You wonder about the confidence level of Tennessee quarterback Rick Clausen. He's heard for more than a week that the Vols plan to play Erik Ainge.

You wonder about the confidence level of Ainge. He hasn't played since is ill-advised underhand throw against LSU that was intercepted for a touchdown.

And as the Vols head to Tuscaloosa to play No. 5 Alabama, you wonder about the confidence level of Tennessee's offense. It ranks no better than 98th in the nation in scoring and 101 in rushing.

Tennessee's offense didn't score against Georgia until the final play of the game. It scored just one touchdown against Florida and Ole Miss. It didn't score on the first 10 possessions against LSU. It scored 17 against a UAB defense that allowed 59 the year before to Hawaii and Tulane.

With all the bullets and barbs being fired in the direction of the offense, you have to wonder about the confidence level of UT offensive coordinator Randy Sanders.

Sanders, who had an outstanding season in 2004, hasn't pushed the right buttons thus far. It's been frustrating for fans, for UT players and for Sanders.

So where is Sanders' confidence level?

``Any time the offense isn't as successful as it needs to be - there's no doubt we haven't scored as many points as we needed to against Georgia and Florida in the two losses - you go back and look at it and do a lot of soul searching as to why,'' Sanders said. ``What can I do better? What can I do differently? Looking at it, I don't really have questions about plays we're running or schemes we're doing.

``Somehow or another, we're not getting it communicated clearly enough and with the sense of urgency that we have to have. That's where we as coaches have to look at it and see what we can do to get that message across to where it's truly received and carried out on the field.''

Tennessee coaches have pointed to execution as the problem. Sanders said execution in practice has been fine, except for the new wrinkles inserted for each game.

``Usually if it's not run right by Thursday,'' Sanders said, ``it doesn't get called on Saturday.''

Regarding games, Sanders said: ``We're doing a lot of things well. We're just not doing enough of them enough of the time.''

Tennessee has gone against some outstanding defenses. Florida is No. 7 nationally, Georgia 11th and LSU 14th. Ole Miss is No. 32nd.

Alabama's defense isn't the kind that cures the ills of an offense. The Tide is fifth in the nation in total defense (255.8 yards per game), fourth in scoring defense (11.3 points), 10th in run defense (93.2 yards) and ninth in pass-defense efficiency.

Alabama's defense has 274 combined career starts. That's more than 26 per man. Three defensive backs and two linebackers have more than 30 career starts.

``We've always said there's no substitute for experience,'' Sanders said. ``But when that experience has talent, it becomes really, really valuable.

``DeMeco Ryans is one of the better linebackers we've played against in several years. I think he's an unbelievable player.''

Sanders also complimented Alabama's front four and secondary.

``They're not going to be intimidated by a big game because they've been in a lot of big games through the years,'' Sanders said. ``There's not a whole lot you'll show them that they haven't seen before. Their experience keeps them from getting out of position and giving up something easy and the talent allows them to make the plays they should make.''

Given UT's weapons, Sanders was asked if he's shocked at the offensive struggles.

``I'm surprised we've not been more explosive,'' Sanders said. ``Explosiveness usually comes from guys in space, guys that can make things happen outside. Right now that's where we have a few injuries keeping us from being full speed.''

Don't expect an explosion against Alabama. If Gerald Riggs can rush for close to 100 yards and the Vols' offense can generate 17 points, Tennessee can prove Kevin Simon was right when he said the Vols aren't a 3-3 team.

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