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.



South Carolina's Syvelle Newton killed Tennessee running from the quarterback spot in Game 8. LSU's JaMarcus Russell killed Tennessee running from the quarterback spot in Game 9. Arkansas's Darren McFadden killed Tennessee running from the quarterback spot in Game 10.

Notice a pattern? If so, you can understand why Vanderbilt's Chris Nickson is eager to face the Vols this Saturday. He has enjoyed more success running from the quarterback spot this year than Newton, Russell and McFadden combined.

Newton rushed 14 times for a team-high 85 yards vs. UT and has 330 net yards this fall. Russell, who burned UT for 71 yards on seven carries, has 130 total. McFadden leads the Southeastern Conference with 1,219 rushing yards but roughly 90 percent of those came from the tailback position. Still, he produced 59 yards and two TDs on eight carries as a shotgun QB against Tennessee last weekend.

That brings us to Nickson. The 6-1, 210-pound Vandy sophomore has 650 net rushing yards this fall, good for a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. Discounting the 112 yards he lost on 19 sacks, he has 762 rushing yards and a 6.7 per-carry average.

If the Vols couldn't stop Newton, Russell and McFadden, do you really think they'll stop Nickson this Saturday?

Most fans assumed Vandy's 2005 defeat of Tennessee was a fluke that could be attributed to the Dores having their greatest quarterback ever (Jay Cutler) and the Vols having their worst offense in 40 years. But there's a good chance another "fluke" is in the offing.


Vanderbilt was a missed field goal away from beating an Arkansas team that drilled Tennessee 31-14.

The Commodores played Florida tougher than the Vols did — gaining 391 total yards (93 rushing), compared to Tennessee's 220 total yards (minus-11 rushing).

Vandy will be up for Saturday's game. Tennessee, riding a two-game losing streak that bumped the Vols from BCS consideration to the Chik Fil-A Bowl, will not.

Considering all of the above, one conclusion is inescapable: If the Vols' heads aren't in the game when they walk onto Dudley Field their heads will be hanging when they walk off of it.



Big Orange fans may not be happy with the Vols (7-3, 3-3) being a middle of the pack SEC team, but they'll be delighted not to lose to Vanderbilt for a second straight season. After all you don't get to be a middle of the pack SEC team by losing games to the Dores and Wildcats.

Last season Tennessee was a 3-5 SEC team which placed them in the lower tier of conference powers and, not coincidentally, it lost to Vanderbilt for the first time in 22 years, assuring the Vols of their first losing season in 17 years.

Even with Jay Cutler at quarterback this UT team would not have lost to Vandy, It takes a variety of conditions to come together for the Vols to lose games to the Vanderbilts, Kentuckys and Mississippi States of the league. And those conditions aren't in place.

Over the course of any five-year recruiting cycle UT accumulates much more talent than those other teams can. The gap will vary from year to year, but overall Tennessee maintainsa significant edge in terms of physical talent. The Vols have a bigger budget, more to offer and they compete for the best athletes in the country.

In addition to a considerable advantage in personnel, the Vols also have an abundance of incentive this year that they didn't in 2005, when they entered the game not having lost to the Dores since most the players of the team were even born. Try as you may it's hard to convince young players an opponent poses a serious threat when they haven't won a game in the series since 1982.

That will not be a problem this year. The memories of the 2005 defeat to their oldest rival are fresh in the minds of redshirt freshmen and seniors alike. As a general rule: the Dores beat the teams that overlook them, not the ones that are aiming for them.

And that's exactly what Tennessee is doing, coming off two straight SEC setbacks in which they surrendered 903 yards total offense. In the process the Vols have exhausted much of the good will they had built early in the season as they compiled a 7-1 record and were ranked in the top 10. Now they may be literally fighting for their head coach's job.

It's debatable how much of a difference the long awaited return of Erik Ainge at quarterback will make. Undoubtedly, playing Vandy's defense instead of LSU's or Arkansas' will make a huge difference. The offensive line should block better and UT's receivers should be able to get off the line and into their routes. Because of its lack of good press defenders, Vandy, which ranks 10th in the league in total defense, may be forced to surrender the short passes that the Tigers and Razorbacks took away. The Vols anemic running game may even be resurrected, especially if LaMarcus Coker is in good health.

Likewise, Tennessee's punch drunk defense will also benefit from not playing LSU and Arkansas, which are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the SEC in total offense. And playing at Dudley Field shouldn't be the challenge that Reynolds Stadium was last week.

By Vanderbilt standards this is a good team, but it's not good enough to beat a motivated and focused Tennessee team.

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