In four road games prior to Saturday's contest in Knoxville, Vanderbilt has averaged 30.5 points per game. In five home games of the current campaign, Tennessee's offensive output comes to a paltry 17.25 points per contest. The Vols' offense scored 20 points against Ole Miss (the defense added a TD) and equaled that high-water mark again last week against Memphis.
Don't be fooled by the line out of Vegas that makes UT a 12-point favorite, it will take a dramatic departure from the 2005 norm for this game to end up in the Vols' favor. And there are intrinsic factors that mitigate against such a reversal of fortune.
Sure, Tennessee still has a strong defense that will make it difficult for Vanderbilt to score points, but the Vols are also susceptible to an effective aerial attack which the Dores have. Vandy is ranked No. 1 in the SEC in passing and No. 21 in the nation. The Vols pass defense is ranked No. 9 in the SEC and No. 51 in the country.
The problem is further compounded by the fact the Dores don't have any healthy running backs, which means they will spread the field and pass. Usually you want an offense to become one dimensional, but this strikes the Vols' Achilles Heel on defense — a lack of secondary depth.
By using wide receivers in place of backs, Vanderbilt will force John Chavis' troops to go to their nickel and dime packages which, in turn, puts reserve DB Roshaun Fellows in the direct line of fire. Over the last two games, Roshaun hasn't exactly been a jolly good Fellows. He's like a ball magnet in the secondary, as every team seeks him out anytime he enters the fray. If Memphis could pick on the redshirt sophomore with a wide receiver playing quarterback, Vanderbilt's Cutler — who is the SEC's total offense leader and a projected first-round NFL Draft choice — will eviscerate him.
True, Vanderbilt's defense isn't scary. It ranks No. 11 in the SEC and No. 75 in the nation, but with an offense ranked No. 100 among Division I teams, can the Vols take advantage? The Dores may be slow, but they're not dumb. They've got a season's worth of film that clearly shows Rick Clausen's effectiveness is greatly diminished by deploying an intermediate zone that takes away the mid-range pass and forces deep throws. Clausen's suspect arm strength limits him to short passes which opposing defenses can smother because their numbers are distributed near the line against the run.
I suppose there's always a chance the Vols will be especially motivated to extend the team's current bowl and winning season streak to 17 straight, but if that's the case why would they wait until now to start winning?