Vandy's fab freshman

Tennessee receivers Bret Smith (three) and C.J. Fayton (two) have combined to catch five touchdown passes in nine games this year. Vanderbilt true freshman Earl Bennett caught that many by himself … last weekend … IN ONE GAME.

Bennett, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder, reeled in TD catches of 13, 2, 5, 13 and 7 yards six days ago vs. Kentucky. He finished with 13 receptions for 99 yards. Incredibly, it wasn't his season high. He recorded that two games earlier against South Carolina, catching 16 balls for 204 yards.

Bennett's 10-game totals are downright imposing. He ranks second among all SEC receivers in catches per game (6.57), receiving yards per game (70.6) and receiving touchdowns (8). Obviously, the fabulous freshman will be a marked man when the Commodores visit Tennessee for a 12:30 Saturday kickoff.

"He's playing well for ‘em," Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis said this week. "It looks like he's got a chance to be a big-time receiver in the SEC, and I think he's already stepped up to that level.

"I don't know when we've seen a freshman put on that kind of performance. He's played well all year, but particularly here of late he's come on."

Vanderbilt head man Bobby Johnson admits being somewhat surprised by Bennett's remarkable rookie season.

"Earl's pretty special," Johnson said. "We thought he was going to be pretty good but we didn't know he'd be this good. He's sneaky fast, he catches the ball, runs with the ball after he catches it. He just seems to make plays. "We're thrilled with what he brings to the table for our offense. He's the big-play guy we've been missing here the last couple of years."

Making Bennett even tougher to stop is the fact Vandy has another top-notch wideout on the opposite side, 6-foot-1, 192-pound senior Erik Davis. He ranks fifth among SEC receivers in receptions per game (4.33), fifth in yards per catch (15.0) and fourth in receiving yards per game (65.2).

When you combine a quarterback as talented as Jay Cutler with receivers the quality of Bennett and Davis, it's little wonder the Commodores rank first among SEC teams in passing offense (282 yards per game), second in total offense (386.6 ypg) and second in scoring (27.9 points per game).

"They've scored a lot of points the last couple of years," Chavis noted. "They've got an excellent quarterback, the offensive line's playing real well and they've put together quite a group of receivers."

Is this the best Commodore offense Chavis has seen in his 11 years as defensive coordinator?

"Probably so," he said. "They've got good talent all over the field, and the quarterback makes ‘em really, really special."


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