THE CASE FOR SOUTHERN MISS
By: RANDY MOORE
Never mind that Southern Miss beat Alabama twice, Auburn, Nebraska, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech once each during the past decade.
Never mind that Southern Miss has one of the NCAA's most productive running backs in Damion Fletcher (1,388 yards as a freshman last season and 156 in the 2007 opener).
Never mind that Southern Miss returns nine starters from its 2006 defense.
Never mind that Southern Miss is favored to win Conference USA.
If you're a Tennessee fan, what should REALLY scare you about the Golden Eagles heading into Saturday night's game at Neyland Stadium is this: USM has a mobile quarterback.
In addition to completing 11-of-26 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown in last Saturday's 35-13 pasting of UT-Martin, Jeremy Young carried the ball eight times for 55 yards (an average of 6.9 per carry) and another TD.
In case, you've forgotten, here's how Tennessee has fared against teams with reasonably mobile quarterbacks the past few years:
2004: lost to Jason Campbell and Auburn 34-10 in the regular season and 38-28 in the SEC Championship Game.
2005: lost to Chris Leak and Florida 16-7 … lost to D.J. Shockley and Georgia 27-14 … lost to Jay Cutler and Vanderbilt 28-24.
Campbell, Leak, Cutler and Russell were not running threats. They were merely dropback passers with enough mobility to avoid the Vol pass rush and occasionally scramble for five to 10 yards. Conversely, Young is a guy who can scramble out of the pocket and gain chunks of yardage on keepers. Historically, this type of guy causes Tennessee loads of trouble, as Vol defenders are acutely aware.
Asked this week what he knows about Southern Miss, UT linebacker Jerod Mayo replied: "They have a great tailback and a mobile quarterback, which adds a different dimension to the game."
A mobile quarterback adds a different dimension, all right, and it's a dimension that has given Tennessee fits in recent years. That makes the Golden Eagles a serious threat in Saturday night's home opener.
WHY VOLS WILL PREVAIL
By: JEFFERY STEWART
I couldn't agree more with my partner in pigskin prose and profundity. Every point he made is a legitimate reason for real concern in Big Orange Country. And there are other troubling truths about this sandwich showdown.
For instance: the Golden Eagles have an all-conference performer in the D-line, linebacker, strong safety, tight end, running back and the offensive line. That's a difference maker on every level of the offense and defense.
They also have an all-conference punter in the appropriately named Britt Barefoot. Teams with that type of imbedded leadership and dispersal of talent are tough to crack — particularly by an opponent that might be suffering from low confidence.
Yes, I've considered all those negative factors and several others. Ultimately, although I accept their validity, I reject their relevancy to the final outcome of Saturday's inter-conference clash.
The loss to California didn't create a sense of urgency for the Volunteers as much as it gave them a JOLT OF REALITY — a form of shock therapy that can lift a team from lethargy into a state of high energy and intensity followed by greater consistency and productivity.
The prospect of falling to 0-2, with a trip to The Swamp to play defending national champion Florida on deck, will have an impact on the fans and coaching staff as well. That could well translate to a deafening decibel level produced by a fired-up crowd packing that gridiron cathedral known as Neyland.
Expect a more focused game plan and a greater willingness to take chances by making better use of more talented, albeit less experienced, players. UT's coaching staff knows it has to use every weapon at its disposal and the Vols do have a depth advantage they can exploit.
The return of LaMarcus Coker should provide a breakaway boost to UT's offensive octane. That's critical with the Vols wideouts still developing and the O-line still gelling.
Finally, Southern Miss ain't California. That's not to say the Golden Eagles aren't dangerous it's just to point out they pose fewer match-up problems for UT's secondary which is largely untested. The addition of Eric Berry will provide immediate rewards.
Moving Dan Williams to starter will give UT a better D-line as well as a better J.T. Mapu. It still lacks an impact player but Demonte Bolden continues to show promise and there's good depth at defensive end.
UT's D is still stingin' from last week's California reamin' and it will be out to prove itself. Questions about the Vols will persist after Saturday, but not the zero in the win column.