Questions abound for Vols

Tennessee's one-point victory over a pesky Air Force team raised more questions than it answered about the Vols' team. Is the defense that vulnerable? Is the kickoff return team that horrific? Is the offensive line that suspect on run blocking?

Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis was befuddled by the Falcons' triple option, saying he'd rather not face an attack like that for another seven or so years.

That ``amen'' you just heard came from Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.

If you're going to play a triple-option team, make sure it's a season opener or a bowl game when you've got a month to prepare, not sandwiched between California and Florida.

You've got to wonder about the confidence level of a Tennessee defense that shut out a potent Cal offense for more than 42 minutes but was embarrassed by Air Force.

Tennessee historically has had trouble stopping the triple option, but few teams run it like Air Force – from the flexbone. And Air Force has seldom been so precise against such a fast, quality defense.

Don't kid yourself into thinking the Falcons offense always looks this good. They fumbled 28 times last year. They went 4-7 last year, 5-6 the year before. They lost 56-14 to California in the 2004 season opener. In 2003, they scored a field goal against San Diego State, 12 points against New Mexico.

But the veteran Falcons – all 11 offensive starters were juniors or seniors -- were rolling against Tennessee. They had seven possessions and scored five times – four touchdowns, one field goal. They converted nine of 13 times on third down. They rushed for 281 yards.

Chavis had no answer.

``They executed better than I thought,'' Chavis said. ``They did some things formation wise we hadn't seen much of. It would be interesting to know why.''

It will be interesting to know if Florida, which runs some spread option, found some option plays that might fit neatly into a package for backup quarterback Tim Tebow.

But it's quite possible Tebow, a true freshman, won't play against the Vols. Chris Leak is off to a terrific start. Against Central Florida, he hit 19 of 29 passes for a career-high 352 yards. He has the best group of receivers in the SEC.

It would be quite a gamble for Florida coach Urban Meyer to insert Tebow into the game to run some option when you've got a senior weapon like Leak, who has played in more than a dozen big games.

The defensive concerns against Florida were compounded by two key injuries. Cornerback Inky Johnson (shoulder) might not play and defensive tackle Justin Harrell (bicep) likely won't be full speed. He didn't play after being injured in the third quarter against Air Force.

Cornerback and defensive tackle are two areas where the Vols lack depth. UT could move safety Demetrice Morley to corner and Turk McBride from end to tackle, provided junior college transfer Walter Fisher is available for the Gator game.

Meanwhile, Tennessee's run game has been less than impressive. Despite the Vols getting 216 rushing yards against Cal, the line didn't get a great push. And some of that yardage was due to backs breaking tackles. Against Air Force, the run blocking was even worse. Runners had 27 carries for 95 yards, a paltry 3.5 yards per game against a pedestrian run defense.

Arian Foster sprained his ankle and didn't play in the second half. Montario Hardesty, who had 72 yards on 19 carries, likely will get the start against Florida. He hits the hole hard and fast, but against the Falcons, he danced too much, even tackling himself when he got tripped up trying to fake a defender.

Except for the run game, UT's offense was outstanding. Erik Ainge was 24 of 29 – he had two drops and threw two away – for a career-high 333 yards. His seven touchdown passes exceed last year's total by two.

The Vols scored on five of six possessions before running out the clock on the seventh series. UT converted nine of 11 third downs and mustered 412 yards on 61 snaps, almost 7 yards per play.

While I think Leak is the SEC's best quarterback, Ainge is clearly the most improved. And if Ainge outplays Leak, UT has a great chance to beat Florida for the fourth time in six tries. To even consider that Ainge could outplay Leak illustrates how much Ainge has progressed.

But like Leak, Ainge will finally be tested by a tough defense. Florida's front four might be the best in the SEC. The Gators have two All-SEC caliber linebackers. And the secondary is exponentially better than that of Cal or Air Force.

Florida will test Ainge. Florida will test UT's defense.

After two games, Ainge appears capable of pulling his weight.

Question is: Will Tennessee's defense bounce back?

Execution Leads to Offensive Explosion

The 61 combined points scored by UT and Air Force was a testament to remarkable execution.

The two teams combined for just 13 possessions (not counting UT running out the clock at the end of the game). They scored 10 times (eight touchdowns and two field goals), had two punts (both by Air Force) and one turnover (Ainge's interception).

They combined for 820 yards, completed 31 of 38 passes for 460 yards and converted 18 of 24 third downs.

Kickoff Return Teams Should Be Kicked

Tennessee kickoff return team was abysmal. The Vols botched two on-side kicks, although one was nullified by a penalty. They fumbled one out of bounds, returned one 4 yards deep in the end zone to the 13, fell at the 1 on another, and fair caught one at the 26. That will get you beat by Florida. It almost got UT beat by Air Force. .


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