Devil's Advocate

Welcome to Devil's Advocate — Inside Tennessee's version of point/counterpoint — where each week analysts Randy Moore and Jeffery Stewart take opposite sides of the field to make their case for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.

Why Air Force has a chance

By: Randy Moore

In 1996 I watched Tennessee hammer South Carolina 31-14 in Columbia, then lose 21-17 to lowly Memphis one week later.

In 1999 I watched Tennessee blast No. 24 Notre Dame 38-14, then fall 28-24 to unranked Arkansas one week later.

In 2000 I watched Tennessee crush Louisiana-Monroe 70-3 (the most points UT scored in a game since 1929), then tumble 38-31 at the hands of unranked LSU a week later.

In 2001 I watched Tennessee dump No. 14 LSU 26-18, then lose 26-24 to unranked Georgia one week later.

Also in 2001 I watched Tennessee stun No. 2 Florida 34-32 at Gainesville, then lose 31-20 to a clearly inferior LSU team one week later.

In 2004 I watched Tennessee thrash South Carolina 43-29 in Columbia, then lose at home 17-13 to unranked Notre Dame a week later.

Big victories often lead to big letdowns. Tennessee is coming off a big victory (35-18) over California), so the Vols are due for a letdown this weekend against an unheralded Air Force squad. It's human nature.

It's also human nature to look past a low-profile service academy when the next team on your schedule is your arch rival and chief nemesis, the Florida Gators.

Like a stealth bomber, Air Force is virtually invisible, hidden between No. 9 Cal in Game 1 and No. 7 Florida in Game 3. The Falcons are the ultimate "sandwich game" a nondescript foe stuck between two big-time opponents, and sandwich games are always dangerous.

You've read all week how Air Force's unorthodox flex-bone offense is unlike anything Tennessee's players have faced. You've read all week that the flex-bone could force the Vols' mercurial linebackers to play with a little less reckless abandon than they showed vs. Cal. You've read all week how the Falcons lull foes to sleep with one run after another, then burn the defense with a long pass. Those are all legitimate concerns.

Here's another point to ponder: Some of these guys could be flying missions to Iraq in a few months. Do you really think they're going to be intimidated by Neyland Stadium?

I'm not going to insult your intelligence by suggesting Tennessee will come out completely flat this Saturday night. The Vols still have a lot to prove on the heels of last year's 5-6 disappointment. They'll be ready for Air Force. They just won't be as ready as they were last weekend for Cal, or as ready as they will be next weekend for Florida.

And that might be just the opening the flex-bone flyboys need to keep Saturday night's game a lot closer than the point spread suggests it should be.

Why Vols Will Prevail

By: Jeffery Stewart

Air Force presents a challenge for Tennessee by falling where it does on the schedule and running an offense the Vols rarely see, but, otherwise, the Falcons are hardly a formidable foe by SEC standards.

For instance:

• Air Force only played one ranked team in 2005, losing to No. 21 TCU at home, 48-10, and giving up 546 yards in the process. The contest was rated a tossup by oddsmakers.

• The next week the Falcons traveled to BYU and, as a six point underdog, promptly surrendered 683 yards in a 62-41 setback.

• The next week they hosted Army and dropped a 27-24 decision, despite being an 11-point favorite.

• Incidentally, they lost at Navy earlier in the season by the identical score.

The fact Air Force lost to TCU and BYU is not that surprising since the Falcons defensive front only averages 258 pounds and there's limited speed in their secondary.

However giving up 27 points in losses to both Army and Navy, which also have height and weight restrictions, indicates that the Falcons have a lot more problems on defense than a simple intrinsic disparity in size.

Those problems will be compounded against a UT team which is bigger, stronger, faster and deeper than any of the aforementioned opponents that averaged 40 points en route to routs over the Fly Boys.

The Vols also have a confidence building, if not cocksure inducing, victory under their belt over top-ten ranked California. Add in a home crowd that is three times as large as the 35,982 average the Falcons played before last season, plus the fact they lost four of five road games in 2005, and it becomes clear Air Force is in over its head in this one.

Oh yeah, that flex-bone offense you've heard so much about is rare for a reason. Today's defenses are too fast to neutralize by way of formation and blocking angles alone. The triple option depends on precise timing which is hard to achieve against opponents that fly to the football in swarms.

Air Force will throw the ball, and is more balanced than most would believe, but getting time to pass against Tennessee's relentless rush and suffocating man coverage is a different matter altogether.

Incidentally, the last time Air Force played a team ranked as high as Tennessee was in 2004 when it opened the season at home, and lost, 56-14, to No. 13 California.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.


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