Can Vols win with a quiet Kelley?

If you stop Kelley Washington, you stop Tennessee.

Vol fans are reluctant to admit it, but that seemed to be the morale of the Vols' game with Rutgers last weekend. The Scarlet Knights limited Kelley Washington to no catches in the first half and led 14-7. He broke loose for 197 receiving yards in the second half, however, spurring Tennessee to a 35-14 win.

So, the question was put before Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders: If you stop Kelley, do you stop Tennessee? Being a football coach, Sanders couldn't help but hedge a bit.

''If somebody can match up with him one-on-one, shut Kelley down, then they can make it hard on everyone else,'' he said. ''Hopefully, we can keep him to the level where they (opponents) have to get some help over there (on Kelley's side) to shut him down. If the help comes from upfront, we should be able to run the ball. If the help comes from the other side, we should be able to throw it to the other side.''

That's the good news. The bad news is that, of all the team's on Tennessee's schedule, the team most capable of shutting down KW without help is this week's opponent ... Arkansas.

''I think Arkansas is going to be a huge test that way,'' Sanders conceded. ''I thought last season they may have had the best corners we saw all year. Now it's the same guys, and they're a year older. It's going to be a big challenge.''

Razorback cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll and Lawrence Richardson are talented and touted but that didn't stop Alabama's Brodie Croyle from piling up 285 passing yards vs. Arkansas in his starting debut last weekend. In addition, two Bama backs ran for more than 100 yards each. So, how did the Tide manage to torch the vaunted Hog defense?

''Alabama pretty much used a lot of misdirection and beat them down the field vertically,'' Vol quarterback Casey Clausen said. ''We're going to come out and do the same deal -- throw the ball downfield and hope to make a lot of big plays.''

Sanders echoes those thoughts.

''They hit big plays,'' he said. ''The first play of the game they hand the thing off and a back goes 80 yards right up the middle of the field. Then they hit a pass out in the flat to Shaud Williams, who broke a tackle and went about 70 yard to the 4-yard line. They hit a post for about 55 yard touchdown and hit a couple more big plays.

''They end up with a lot of yards but probably 70 percent of their yards came on six or eight plays. They were able to get a lead, and that made Arkansas' offense play different. It was similar to our game with Michigan (in the 2002 Citrus Bowl). We had a ton of yards on some plays. We ended up with 90-some yards rushing and had 60 yards on reverses.''

Of course, Tennessee's big-play effort against Michigan was spearheaded by Donte' Stallworth, who is now doing his thing for the NFL's New Orleans Saints. That leaves UT with no big-play threat to take the heat off of Washington.

''We're still looking for more guys to make plays,'' Clausen conceded. ''In the Rutgers game, Kelley did his thing and Jason (Witten) did his thing. Derrick (Tinsley) played pretty well. Everybody knows what those guys can do. We're still looking for more guys to step up. Some of the other guys need to come along.''

Sanders touched on the same theme.

''Jason (WItten) made a play or two and had an opportunity to make more plays,'' the coordinator said. ''Derrick Tinsley made a couple of plays but I'd like to see him make that last guy miss, create the big plays instead of the 10-, 12-, 14-yard gains. Go ahead and get the 30-yarder by making that safety miss.''

Two wideouts with the skills to complement Washington missed the Rutgers game but will be available for Arkansas. Montrell Jones sat out the game on a disciplinary suspension, while Tony Brown missed all but one series after aggravating a sprained ankle.

Given Washington's stellar play against Rutgers, it's a safe bet that Arkansas will do whatever is necessary to shut him down Saturday night. In addition, Tennessee will be without its most productive running back since Cedric Houston is recovering from thumb surgery.

Assuming Arkansas can control Washington, Tennessee will be hard-pressed to move the ball unless Witten, Tinsley, Jones and Brown make significant contributions.

There's more bad news when you match the Arkansas offense against the Tennessee defense. The Vols proved unable to tackle Florida quarterback Rex Grossman, and Razorback QB Matt Jones is twice as fast and three times as elusive as Grossman. He could give the Vols fits with his speed and elusiveness.

It's true that Alabama manhandled Arkansas last weekend, but Alabama is playing good football right now ... Tennessee is not. That's why I envision a tough night for the Vols. If the game were in Fayetteville, I'd pick the Hogs. Because it's in Knoxville, I'm giving a tentative nod to Tennessee.

My pick: Vols 27, Razorbacks 21.


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