Coker may smoke Gators

He missed Game 1 and played poorly in Game 2. But he just might be the key to victory in Game 3.

That would be LaMarcus Coker, Tennessee's sophomore speedster. Despite sitting out the opener on a disciplinary suspension and gaining just 11 yards on four carries last Saturday night vs. Southern Miss, he could have major impact on Saturday's showdown with No. 4 Florida (3:30 p.m. kickoff in Gainesville).

The Gators' front four is sure to get after Vol quarterback Erik Ainge, who is passing for 273.5 yards per game. The Gators' rugged linebackers are sure to target Vol tailback Arian Foster, who is rushing for 107 yards per game. The Gators' scrappy cornerbacks are sure to play press coverage on Tennessee's inexperienced receivers.

Thus, Coker could be the wild card. The Vols can utilize him a number of ways: Line him up in the backfield. Send him in motion. Pitch the ball to him on sweeps. Throw the ball to him on screens. Use him as a safety valve. If the receivers are having trouble getting open, split him out wide and send him deep.

Given how little impact he had on Games 1 and 2, Coker is a guy the Gators may have overlooked. That, combined with his breakaway speed, could make him one valuable Vol Saturday at The Swamp.

"He's a guy that you can throw a little four-yard pass to and he can run for an 85-yard touchdown," Ainge said earlier this week. "He's kind of our Percy Harvin. He's that guy, so we need to get him ready and I definitely think he'll do his part."

Harvin, of course, is the Gators' wild card. He lines up in the backfield, goes in motion, takes pitches, catches screens, etc. Sound familiar?

For Coker to have impact on Game 3, however, he will have to perform way above the level of Game 2. Clearly rusty after his layoff, he ran the wrong way on his first offensive snap, causing a busted play and forcing Ainge to take a one-yard loss.

"That actually was a miscommunication between me and him," Ainge said. "That wasn't necessarily his fault."

Most likely, the extra week of work has enabled Coker to regain his familiarity with the Vol scheme. Most likely, the extra week of work has enabled him to regain the explosiveness he showed last season, when he recorded two of the longest runs in program history – an 89-yarder vs. Marshall and an 87-yarder vs. Vanderbilt. He also recorded a career-best 48-yard touchdown catch last year. It came, interestingly enough, against Florida.

The Gator defense dominated Tennessee the past two years, limiting the Vols to one touchdown in 2005 and to minus-11 rushing yards in 2006. That's why a big-play threat such as Coker could be a game-changer. He can take a quick pitch or a swing pass and turn it into six points. That's important, especially in a game as competitive as the showdown at The Swamp.

"It IS important," Ainge conceded. "You don't have to have that (big-play element) in order to win the football game but when you don't have that it means there's going to be more third downs to convert."

Even if Coker doesn't pop any 80-yard touchdown plays, he has the speed to turn short gains into substantial gains. That's almost as valuable.

"If we can get a 10-yard curl that turns into a 35-yard gain, those are huge plays," Ainge said. "That turns field position in one play."


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