Memphis mystery

Memphis head coach Tommy West's recent decision to fire defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn and assume his duties has changed Saturday's showdown with Tennessee from a football game to a guessing game.

Dunn utilized three down linemen, a lot of eight-man fronts and a lot of blitzing. West always preferred a more conventional scheme – four down linemen, seven-man fronts and limited blitzing – during his days as a defensive coordinator.

Given that West had an open date last weekend to implement considerable changes on defense, Tennessee's coaches are wondering:

Will they face the four-man front that West prefers?

Will they face the three-man front that Dunn already installed?

Will they face a combination of the two?

Will they face a lot of blitzing or only a little?

Will West surprise UT by going against his past tendencies?

Will there be new personnel at some positions?

Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe doesn't know the answer to these questions. That's why he's preparing for anything the Tigers might throw at the Vols Saturday in Memphis.

"We'll get ready for the gamut," Cutcliffe says. "We've seen most everything through the years, so we'll get in the ball game and see what direction they're taking. We hear a lot of rumors coming out of their camp but you don't know what you're going to get. You play sound, solid, fundamental football and be prepared for whatever they throw at you, hopefully."

Cutcliffe coached against defenses coordinated by West in the past, which should provide a little better idea of what to expect Saturday.

"I have played against Tommy's defenses, so I'm pretty familiar with what he likes," Cutcliffe notes. "But the game has changed. We've changed some things and I would think Tommy will have some adjustments himself, based on the game changing a little bit."

Given West's fondness for the 4-3 when he was a defensive coordinator, it appears likely Memphis will play that alignment most of the time on Saturday.

"I think they will," Cutcliffe says. "That's what he believes in, but they can get right back to what they were doing pretty quickly. They can revert to what they have done, which is a lot of pressure at any given time, so we've got a lot to prepare for."

The fact Dunn's defensive scheme and West's vary in so many ways makes Cutcliffe's task more difficult. He's basically preparing for two systems that are almost polar opposites.

"That's the dilemma we're faced with," the Vol aide notes. "We're not sure what we're going to get."

Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer concedes that not knowing exactly what West will do is a concern … but not a huge concern.

"We're not sure what we're going to get and how much of what," the head man says. "They can only put 11 out there. During the course of the game we'll have to get a feel for what they're trying to do and how much they're going to hang on to what they were doing – which is exactly the opposite of what Coach West has done before."

You wonder: Even with an open date, how much change can West make in just two weeks?

"I would say considerable, just from what I've read in the paper," Fulmer says. "They're going from a three-down blitz-type look to more of a conventional four-down, three-linebacker, umbrella-type secondary. How much they go back and do some of the good things they were doing out of the other scheme you just don't know."

Ultimately, the pressure to adapt to Memphis' mystery defense falls mostly on Tennessee's offensive linemen. They must recognize what the Tigers are doing and react instantly.

"It shouldn't be drastic for our guys," Fulmer notes. "It's just going to be a matter of recognizing exactly what they're doing in the three or four seconds you've got while you're at the line of scrimmage."


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