Sanders looks at MTSU defense

Don't be misled by the fact Alabama rang up 39 points against Middle Tennessee State's defense last Saturday. Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders says 21 of those points were gifts.

''Alabama did a really nice job early in the game, hit a couple of plays (TD passes of 35 and 15 yards) and scored a couple of easy touchdowns,'' said Sanders, who hopes to similarly exploit MTSU's defense this Saturday at Neyland Stadium. ''It looked like Middle made some typical first-game mistakes to give up 14 of the points. Then they (Tide) got a touchdown late on the interception return.''

''Alabama did a good job and made some plays with the option game but I thought they were pretty fortunate to get about 21 of those points.''

Although fourth-ranked Tennessee is favored by 22 points, Sanders said the Blue Raiders pose the same kind of pesky challenge that Southern Mississippi has in the past. The Vols always beat USM but the scores were generally tight. For instance, the last meeting saw UT prevail 19-16 in the 2000 opener.

''Middle is a lot like Southern Miss,'' Sanders said. ''Southern Miss was always right on the edge of beating us every time we played them, and I expect Middle to be the same way.''

Still, the coordinator feels good about his troops. Tennessee's offense got a number of solid performances in last week's opener. The most encouraging was a seven-catch, 77-yard effort by wide receiver Tony Brown.

''Going into the game, we thought he was our best one (behind injured standout Kelley Washington),'' Sanders said. ''And I think he showed Saturday that that was true.''

Another encouraging development was the play of tailback Cedric Houston, who gained 106 yards on just 10 carries, with touchdown runs of 28 and 46 yards.

''That's about what I expected out of Cedric,'' he said. ''Hopefully, he can give us a 46-yard run every weekend.''

Another plus was the overall precision of the offensive unit. For a season opener, the attack unit was surprisingly efficient.

''I was encouraged because we only had three offensive penalties,'' Sanders said. ''We had one illegal hand to the face call, which wasn't intentional, and a couple of procedure penalties. Other than that, it was managed pretty well.''

The coordinator said UT had a couple of mis-alignments during the game and that tailback/receiver Derrick Tinsley ran an incorrect pass route on one occasion, causing him to wind up in the same location as tight end Jason Witten. Overall, though, Sanders was thrilled with Tinsley's performance.

''Derrick's done a tremendous job,'' the coordinator said. ''I love his attitude and what he's been able to do. We're asking him to play three or four different wide receiver positions, plus running back and essentially an H-back position. He's learning a ton of different things, so only having one mistake was pretty well done by him.''


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