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 TENNESSEE WILL ROLL

By: Randy Moore

Coming off last weekend's emotionally draining loss to Florida, Tennessee's players are sure to come out a little flat this weekend against Marshall. It won't matter.

Fresh from a minus-11-yard rushing performance against the Gators, the Vols will stubbornly try to establish the ground game. It won't matter.

The Thundering Herd runs some triple option, an offense Air Force used with tremendous success against Tennessee two weeks ago. That won't matter, either.

Marshall, you see, is the kind of sacrificial lamb teams typically line up for Homecoming. The Thundering Herd has lost two of three games this season and five of its last six, dating back to 2005. There's a reason for that: This team isn't very good.

Marshall's offense? Forget about it. The Herd managed all of eight first downs and 142 yards total offense (50 rushing, 92 passing) last week in a 23-7 loss to Kansas State. Marshall's touchdown, incidentally, came on a blocked-punt return. The attack unit produced precisely zilch.

Marshall's run defense? Get this: West Virginia ran for 312 net yards in a 42-10 Game 1 blowout of the Herd. That suggests even Tennessee's struggling ground game should enjoy a productive outing Saturday afternoon.

Marshall's pass defense? Glad you asked. It allowed Kansas State receivers to average 13.5 yards per catch en route to 256 passing yards last weekend. Oh, by the way: K-State's receivers are coached by former Vol aide Pat Washington.

Since Tennessee is sure to be down following the Florida game, you'd figure Marshall has a chance to jump out to an early lead. It ain't gonna happen. This team couldn't jump out to an early lead playing against air. The Herd trailed West Virginia 21-0 after 22 minutes and would've trailed Kansas State 10-0 at halftime if not for the blocked punt TD. Even lowly Hofstra —Marshall's lone victim to date — built a 14-0 lead before faltering.

Thundering Herd? More like Blundering Herd. This team is just what the doctor ordered for a post-Florida hangover.

VOLS ARE VULNERABLE

By: Jeffery Stewart

If someone was to ask me if Tennessee will be upset by Marshall on Saturday, my answer would be an emphatic — NO. If someone was to ask me if the Vols could be upset by Marshall, my answer would be an equally emphatic — YES.

While most of my fellow students were sleeping during history class, I was sitting straight up at my desk, hanging on every word. I'm fascinated by history like some people are intrigued by the stock market or the latest technology. History is not only a road map to how we got we're we are, it's also a barometer of the future.

That's why to make a case for Marshall, I reference 1999 when UT was the defending national champion and winners of 14 straight games, until a tough-to-take 23-21 defeat at Gainesville to the Gators.

Seven days later the Vols were back in Knoxville to play Memphis. On paper it looked like a big-time blowout. Not only were the Vols steamed about losing to Florida, they were 15-1 vs. the school formerly known as Memphis State (Tiger High in some circles). Furthermore, that one defeat occurred when the teams last met in 1996 so there was added incentive for mauling the Tigers.

Oh yeah, it was also Homecoming which seemed to reduce the the possibilities of an upset to infinitesimal levels. That was reflected by the oddsmakers who had the Vols as prohibitive 26-point favorites.

However an entirely different type of contest ensued, as Memphis took Tennessee to the wire before a last minute, Hail Mary pass from Tee Martin to Bobby Graham snatched a 17-16 victory from the jaws of devastating defeat.

Admittedly this season's Marshall team is not very good, but it neither was Memphis was in 1999. On the other hand, Tennessee's 1999 squad was loaded with talent, including two first round NFL draft choices (Jamal Lewis and Shaun Ellis), five second round picks (Raynoch Thompson, Chad Clifton, Cosey Coleman, Deon Grant and Dwayne Goodrich), a third round pick (Darwin Walker) and a fifth round pick (Darwin Walker). It also featured such NFL notables Travis Henry, David Martin, Eric Westmoreland, Cedrick Wilson, John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth and Donte Stallworth.

Even with the early loss to Florida it was a team that was on track to defend its national title until a four-point upset at Arkansas in November derailed its run. That year the Vols rushed for 2,536 yards and 27 touchdowns averaging nearly five yards per carry.

In other words: it didn't resemble the 2006 Vols who can't run to save their lives, who are weaker on the both the offensive and defensive lines, and who don't have nearly the depth as their ‘99 counterparts. All those factors make UT much more vulnerable to the upset now than they were in 1999 and the Vols suffered two major upsets that season to vastly inferior squads.

Additionally, this Tennessee team has played three emotional games in a row and are likely to have a letdown against Marshall, not to mention the distractions of Homecoming. That's why most football coaches will tell you they'd rather play someone else's Homecoming than their own.

Finally, UT has had twice as many turnovers this season, 6 to 3, than it has forced. In fact the Vols have not forced a single fumble in three games much less recovered one, while they have fumbled the ball five times and lost two. Average yards per carry and the turnover ratio are leading indicators when it comes to predicting upsets.

No, I don't think Marshall will upset Tennessee. Then again neither did I think a suspect Air Force would play the Vols to a standstill two weeks ago. And I didn't think the Vols would lose to Army in 1986, or to Memphis in 1996. But I'd never say it can't happen.

Those that ignore history are destined to repeat it.


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