Is the O-line to blame?

It's a safe bet that Phillip Fulmer is getting better protection from his anti-perspirant than he is from his offensive line this fall.

Slipshod pass protection is the main reason quarterback Casey Clausen has a shoulder injury (a hairline fracture of the left clavicle, according to The Knoxville News-Sentinel) that clouds his status for Saturday's crucial SEC East showdown at Georgia.

Clausen has been sacked just seven times this fall but he's been running for his life all season. He has carried the ball 35 times through five games, with probably 30 of those being scrambles caused by breakdowns in pass protection.

Given the fact Tennessee's coaching staff features three of the most respected O-line coaches in America -- Fulmer, Mike Barry and Jimmy Ray Stephens -- how can the offensive line play be so shaky?

It isn't, Fulmer insists, although he concedes that pass protection has been spotty at best.

''The first thing you want to do is say, 'Well, the offensive line's not protecting.' '' the head man noted. ''If it were that easy, it would be simpler to correct.''

While he conceded that ''some'' of the problem rests with the offensive line, Fulmer added that ''It's a combination of things. The young backs are missing some things and a time or two it's been the tight end.'' Lest he leave anyone out, Fulmer eventually added that: A few times Casey just needs to throw it away. It's a combination of things.''

Because Tennessee's ground game has been erratic, teams continue to load up in an effort to stop Clausen from getting the ball to Kelley Washington. The Vols have had only modest success dealing with these defensive ploys. ''People have chosen to come with every type of blitz you can dream up,'' Fulmer said. ''We've been challenged that way.''

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