Devil's Advocate

Welcome to Devil's Advocate — Inside Tennessee's version of punch/counter punch — where each week analysts Randy Moore and Jeffery Stewart choose their sideline and make their cases for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.

Indians aren't scared of UT

by Randy Moore

The Arkansas State Indians aren't afraid of Tennessee. Why should they be? They battled the "other" UT (Texas) to a mere 21-13 loss on Sept. 1, and the Longhorns are playing much better football than the Volunteers.

Heck, most of the 119 major-college teams are playing better football than the Volunteers these days. Consider:

They can't pick up a yard on third-and-one.

They can't stop the forward pass.

They can't seem to play an entire game without surrendering cheap touchdowns on punt returns and fumble returns.

They can't hold a quality opponent below 40 points.

And, make no mistake, Arkansas State is a quality opponent. Quarterback Corey Leonard's passer-efficiency rating (131.0) is almost identical to that of Tennessee's Erik Ainge (133.6). Leonard is one point behind in completion percentage (65.3 to 64.3) and less than three yards behind in passing yards per game (265.3 to 262.5). In addition, Leonard is mobile enough to average 44.5 rushing yards per game, and we all know how much trouble UT historically has with mobile quarterbacks.

I know what you're thinking: Leonard padded his stats in ASU's 45-28 blowout of SMU. Not so. He was just as effective against Texas (23 of 35 for 259 yards) as he was against the Mustangs (22 of 34 for 266 yards)

The Indians also have a quality running back in Reggie Arnold. The 5-9, 217-pound fireplug averages 112 yards per game and 7.5 per carry. Like Leonard, he performed quite capably against Texas, averaging better than 6.0 yards per attempt on 11 carries.

Leonard and Arnold are just two of several reasons why Arkansas State might win Saturday night. If you saw last week's game with Florida, you already know there are several reasons why Tennessee might lose Saturday night.



You never know how a team will respond to the type of thumping Tennessee took last week. Certainly it does nothing to boost its confidence, but it does a lot to wound its pride.

A win over Arkansas State isn't going to restore the Vols' confidence, that opportunity will have to wait two weeks for Georgia, but it can help soothe their pride, and that's their most pressing priority.

This is essentially the same situation Tennessee faced when it played Southern Miss. The Vols were still stinging from a one-sided defeat to Cal with the season's key game against Florida only a week away. Now they meet Arkansas State with the Georgia game next on the schedule. The bye week will help UT's focus and a week of public flogging should fuel its emotions.

While Arkansas State is accustomed to playing high-profile programs on the road, as it did in the season opener at Texas, it is not used to finding highly motivated competition. A 1-44-3 record against Southeastern Conference foes underscores the Indians' problems matching up with SEC talent.

ASU won't be overwhelmed by the stadium or crowd, but Tennessee's speed and depth will pose problems. So will the Vols talent which is much better than it has shown to this point. In terms of talent the Indians compare very closely to fellow Conference USA member Southern Miss, although they don't share the Golden Eagles reputation as a dangerous underdog.

The embarrassing setback in Gainesville has forced UT to take some chances with younger players in key roles, and an infusion of youthful energy will more than offset any lack of experience. Additionally, extra attention to special teams has provided short term improvement in the recent past and should be evident on Saturday.

The start of this season closely parallels 1981 when the Vols got throttled 44-0 by Georgia and then lost on the west coast to USC 43-7 to go 0-2. Tennessee came back to post an 8-4 record that year with a bowl victory over Wisconsin.

It remains to be seen if they can pull off a similar rally in 2007. If they do a win over Arkansas State is essential and that's why the Vols will be ready.

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