Vol DBs can't relax

Given that Air Force had roughly a 3 to 1 run/pass ratio last fall, you'd figure Tennessee's secondary would have a fairly uneventful evening this Saturday at Neyland Stadium. You'd be wrong, though.

Although he is a master at running the triple option, junior quarterback Shaun Carney also puts the "Air" in Air Force. He threw just 148 passes in 2005 - roughly 13 per game - but completed 64.2 percent for 1,393 yards and 7 touchdowns. The 5-10, 190-pounder compiled a brilliant passer-efficiency rating of 149.40.

So, the Falcons - as their nickname suggests - can move through the air when the need arises.

"They had five or six games last year where they threw for over 200 yards," Tennessee secondary coach Larry Slade noted. "They only throw 10 to 15 times per game but they make a lot of big plays. They do a great job of executing. If you see a receiver open and the ball thrown, you won't see many balls dropped by those guys."

Air Force probably has less talent at the quarterback and receiver spots than anyone the Vols will face this season. That's why the Falcons rely heavily on the element of surprise. They lull the opposing defense to sleep with their ground-hugging wishbone attack, then shock their foe with a long pass.

"Certainly. Certainly," Slade said. "You get all of that run action and the temptation (for a defensive back) is to say, 'Hey, I'm going to make a play.'"

When the defensive back begins to overplay the run, Carney promptly fires a pass over his head for a big gain.

"Air Force makes a lot of plays like that," Slade said. "You put on any tape and you see their receivers running WIDE OPEN. You think, 'Man, don't they (opposing DBs) understand that? That's what you deal with when you play against an Air Force."

So, what can Tennessee's defensive backs do to combat this sneaky passing attack?

"Our challenge is to do our jobs," Slade said. "Someone will be responsible for run support and two or three guys will be responsible for the pass. We've got to do that 100 percent of the time."

Despite its lack of elite talent, Air Force is a difficult team to defend. The Falcons' attack is so unconventional that it creates major problems for conventional defenses.

"It is a pain in the butt because it's unusual how they block it and the things you have to work on," Slade said. "We put so much emphasis on being fundamentally sound. If we are fundamentally sound we can handle it."

Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer also gave the Falcon attack a grudging salute.

"Air Force is very efficient in their scheme," he said. "They have a slick little quarterback that is a very, very good operator. We have our work cut out for us to have discipline, play good assignment football, tackle well and not give them anything cheap."

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