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.



Your name is Phillip Fulmer. Your program seems stuck in first gear. Your record is 4-3 after a humiliating 41-17 loss to an Alabama team you were supposed to beat. Your fans are frustrated because you haven't won a conference title in eight years. Your division is wide-open this fall but you lost control of your own destiny by getting blown out in Tuscaloosa.

Your team is insanely erratic. Your assistants are grasping at straws. Your players are shell-shocked after losing three games by an average margin of 25.7 points. Your team appears to be hurtling toward a 7-5 season. Bottom line: You need a win in the worst way.

Oh, yeah. Your arch-nemesis is next on the schedule ... some guy named Steve Spurrier. He has an 8-4 head-to-head record against you. Sure, you've got the home-field advantage but that didn't stop Spurrier from beating you in 1994, 1996 and 2000 as head man at Florida and in 2005 as head man at South Carolina.

Surely, you can beat him this time, though. Right?

Don't bet on it. Here are a few more reasons to go with the Gamecocks:

Tennessee is over-reliant on its passing attack, even when its ground game is clicking (as was the case at Bama last weekend). Further complicating matters is the fact that injuries will sideline, or at least limit, first-team wideouts Lucas Taylor and Josh Briscoe. Oh, by the way, South Carolina's pass defense ranks No. 1 nationally, allowing just 145.9 yards per game.

• Tennessee's pass defense, conversely, ranks No. 84 nationally, allowing 249.0 yards per game. Mississippi State freshman Wes Carroll posted his career high for passing yards against the Vols two weeks ago, and Bama's John Parker Wilson did the same last weekend. If Tennessee's young defensive backs can't stop passing attacks designed by Woody McCorvey and Major Applewhite, do you really think they can slow down a passing attack orchestrated by an offensive genius like Spurrier?

• South Carolina will be sky-high this Saturday after managing just two field goals in a 17-6 home-field loss to Vanderbilt last weekend. Moreover, the Gamecocks haven't scored a touchdown in their last six quarters of play. Admit it: The resourcefulness of Spurrier and the law of averages could produce a breakout game for Carolina this weekend.

• The Gamecocks have weaknesses, of course. The problem is, the Vols lack the skills to take advantage. Carolina's pass protection is weak but so is Tennessee's pass rush. The Vols rank dead last among SEC teams in sacks. Carolina ranks 11th among SEC teams in third-down efficiency but Tennessee ranks eighth in third-down defense.

To recap:

South Carolina has the pass defense to shut down Erik Ainge and his patchwork receiving corps.

Spurrier will pull out all the stops against a Vol defense whose confidence has to be at an all-time low.

The Gamecocks are looking for vindication after losing to Vandy, whereas the Vols are looking for answers after losing to Bama.

Big Orange fans are not happy campers. Many will stay home Saturday. Many who show up will be booing at the first sign of trouble.

Of course, what happens in the stands is the least of Phil Fulmer's worries. He'll have his hands full down on the field.



Trying to predict how Tennessee will play from one week to the next is like trying to give a long-range forecast of wind conditions on Mt. Everest — you know they will be hurricane force but it's anybody's guess from which direction they will blow.

Likewise, there are no half measures with the Vols. Through seven games they are 4-3 with the closest contest being decided by 13 points against Mississippi State. In 2006, six of the the Vols 12 regular season games were decided by seven points or less, including a 31-30 win over Air Force, a 21-20 loss to Florida, a 16-13 victory over Alabama and a 28-24 setback to LSU.

In 2005, six of Tennessee's 11 regular season games were decided by seven points or less. In 2004, seven of the Vols 12 regular season games were determined by a margin or seven points or less.

Clearly 2007 is atypical by Tennessee standards and unusual by any standards. The only predictability regarding UT has been its maddening inconsistency. For instance: the Vols beat Georgia by 21 points, Georgia beats Alabama in overtime at Tuscaloosa and Bama beats UT by 24 on the same field.

Of course, this could merely be a statistical anomaly and the last five games will include mostly nail-biters. Or it could be chalked up to the vagaries of youth and using a lot of inexperienced players in key roles. It might also indicate a leadership vacuum or a general inability to overcome adversity in the course of a game.

The only discernible pattern to the Vols' play this season is that they have followed road losses with home wins albeit against Southern Miss and Arkansas State. Furthermore Tennessee is undefeated (3-0) at Neyland Stadium including its most impressive outing against Georgia.

That would lead one to conclude youth and leadership are suspect in lopsided home losses, since great fan support can fill the void of confidence and emotion needed to win decisively in today's game of equity and upsets.

True, Tennessee doesn't have the talent advantage it has enjoyed for most of Phillip Fulmer's tenure. That's particularly true in the defensive line, secondary and at wide receiver. Still there is a lot of young talent on the roster that could begin to produce at a higher rate.

Professional scouts I've talked to opine that the only 2007 opponent to this point with more top-to-bottom talent than the Vols was Florida. (Yes that must come as a surprise to Bama.) Note it does not mean the Vols have had an advantage when matching starting lineups alone.

Tennessee kicks off a four-game home stand against South Carolina and this appears to be an excellent match-up. The Gamecocks, who only scored two field goals last week in a 16-6 home loss to Vanderbilt, is No. 93 nationally in total offense and No. 113 of 119 Division I teams in sacks allowed with 26.

A lack of good mobility at quarterback compounds the Gamecocks' protection problems as does an anemic ground game that ranks No. 11 in the SEC. As much as the Vols have suffered from an unseasoned secondary this unit would get a major boost with more pressure from the front four. That should happen against S.C.

Tennessee has moved the ball against every opponent it has played this year and ranks No. 2 in the league in passing offense and No. 5 in total offense. Although the Gamecocks are tops in the SEC in pass defense that may have as much to do with their inability to stop the run. They rank No. 10 in the Conference in rush defense allowing 171 yards per game.

That as well as the Vols inexplicable abandonment of the run against Alabama is an open invitation to pound the rock. Once UT gets the running game untracked and working in tandem with the air attack the Vols offense is virtually unstoppable, and opponents become vulnerable to the play-action pass. That translates to more points than S.C. can match and more rest for the Vol's stop troops.

Steve Spurrier holds a decisive edge over Fulmer in head-to-head contests, however it didn't matter last week when he held an 11-0 advantage against Vandy.

It looked like Arian Foster could have taken over the game against Alabama. Against South Carolina he will do just that.

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