UT must contain mobile QB

Tennessee has had trouble with mobile quarterbacks before this season, but never this much trouble. A quarterback who doesn't normally scramble much led his team in rushing against the Vols. One team lined up a tailback in the shotgun 13 times and ran the Vols ragged.

Now, Tennessee faces Vanderbilt's Chris Nickson, a decent passer who also leads the Commodores in rushing with 650 yards. He's had nine games of at least 40 rushing yards, including 150 against Duke. Twice, he's had at least 400 total yards in a game, including 517 against Kentucky.

But Nickson has also had three games in which he's passed for less than 100 yards. And he's had games in which he went 11-for-25, 12-for-26, and 4-for-15 passing.

The obvious goal for Tennessee is to keep Nickson contained in the pocket. Easier said than done.

``We're going to have to do a great job, no doubt,'' said Tennessee defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell.

After facing South Carolina's Syvelle Newton, LSU's JaMarcus Russell – each of whom outrushed UT's team – and Arkansas' Darren McFadden in the shotgun, you'd think Tennessee would have some answers by now. But the coaching staff seems more frustrated than ever.

``You keep screaming at your kids about getting pressure, pressure the quarterback, pressure the quarterback, but it has to be done in a manner that he (quarterback) is not able to make big plays on us,'' Caldwell said. ``It really puts us in a bind.''

Caldwell said the defensive ends must keep the quarterbacks inside the pocket, not allowing them to scramble outside. But if the ends come too wide on the rush, the quarterback can duck inside and break free.

``You have to get pressure different ways,'' Caldwell said. ``You have to do it in a good, sound way where we can't let him get out and around us.

``A lot of times what happens is they come straight back up middle. If you're rushing four people and they have five gaps, there is one left open. So we've got to do a great job of coming up and making plays with linebackers and the secondary.''

What are the pros and cons of using a spy on a mobile quarterback?

Caldwell said it takes a defender out of his usual alignment.

``It depends on where you spy from,'' Caldwell said. ``If you spy him from a front guy, it takes away your pressure. He (quarterback) is going to sit back there all day because they've got five blocking three – or maybe six, depending on protection. If you try to do it with one of your linebackers, you've got to be in man coverage because you're taking him out of zone. You've got different options. But at same time, you give up something to cover him (with a spy).''

Of course, using a lineman as a spy is a gamble because not many lineman could tackle Newton or Russell or Nickson in the open field.

Rather than just point a finger at UT's defense, Caldwell said credit should go to the mobile quarterbacks. Nickson is Vanderbilt's leading rusher. And Newton chopped through Auburn's defense for key runs.

``It's not just us that's having problems with those type quarterbacks,'' Caldwell said. ``You look all over the country. It puts a lot of pressure on a defensive line, even in the NFL. It just becomes a big problem when you play against athletic quarterbacks.''

Athletic quarterbacks have also contributed to UT's low sack total of 16 through 10 games. Only Alabama and Ole Miss in the SEC have fewer.

``It's horrible,'' Caldwell said, shaking his head. ``We've got to get better. Go right back to what we talked about – we've played three pretty good quarterbacks who have been able to scramble on us. We're telling them (defensive ends), rush the passer but watch the draw.''

UT's ends have six of the team's 16 sacks. Linebackers have seven.


Among Tennessee coaches with at least five games against Vanderbilt, Gen. Robert Neyland has the worst won-loss record. But that's misleading. He was actually UT's best coach against the Commodores.

Why? Because Vandy was a power when Neyland arrived in Knoxville and popular opinion is he was hired to beat the Commodores.

Neyland was 16-3-2 against Vandy.

While the Vols have dominated Vanderbilt over the past five decades – five losses since 1954 – no UT coach who's faced the Commodores at last five times is undefeated. Johnny Majors was 15-1. Fulmer is 12-1. Bowden Wyatt was 7-1. Embattled Bill Battle was 5-1-1. Doug Dickey was 5-1.


The best pass-catch combination in the SEC isn't at Florida or LSU or Tennessee or South Carolina. It's at Vanderbilt.

Nickson and Earl Bennett have been on fire. Bennett, who caught 79 passes last season, has 78 with a game to play. In the last three outings, Bennett has caught 33 passes for 561 yards and three touchdowns. That's an AVERAGE of 11 catches for 187 yards and one touchdown.

Bennett, who holds the SEC record for most catches (157) in his first two seasons, has had three 10-catch games this season and four with more than 150 yards. He has caught at least four passes in every game.

Bennett is already fourth on Vandy's all-time receptions list.


Vanderbilt played Arkansas much better than UT did, losing 21-19 compared to 31-14.

The Commodores had a chance to win in the final seconds but Brian Hahnfeldt's 47-yard field goal attempt came up short into a gust of wind.

Vandy ran for 240 yards on Arkansas compared to UT's 92. Vandy had 364 yards compared to UT's 266.


Don't tell center Josh McNeil that Tennessee's season is virtually over.

``There's a ton left to play for,'' McNeil said. ``We still have a chance for a 10-win season. Remembering back at the beginning of the season, I don't think anybody would have said we'd have won 10 games. Yeah, there's a whole lot to fight for – a good bowl game, pride. There's a bunch to play for still.''

McNeil said the Vols must bounce back from what he called the offensive line's worst game of the season against Arkansas.

``There were some bad things, some breakdowns,'' he said. ``It was a pretty rough game for all of us.''

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