UT's new go-to guy

The fact Tennessee has a quality quarterback and Wisconsin has a suspect secondary suggests the Vols will pile up passing yards at a dizzying pace in Tuesday's Outback Bowl.

That scenario isn't nearly as likely now, though, as it was before Lucas Taylor was declared academically ineligible for the game. Taylor was Erik Ainge's go-to receiver throughout 2007, finishing the regular season with 73 catches for an even 1,000 yards.

How much will Tennessee's passing attack miss Taylor in the Outback Bowl? Consider this. When he was healthy in Games 1 through 6, he caught 41 passes (6.8 per game) for 618 yards (103.0 per game). After suffering a turf-toe injury, he caught just 32 passes (4.6 per game) in the seven remaining games for a mere 382 yards (54.6 per game).

As offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe recently noted: "He's a guy who can get down the field and make big plays .... We did a little study of production, and he was certainly a big part of our production."

Even when he was slowed by the painful toe injury, Taylor continued to be Tennessee's go-to receiver simply because he was the most dependable.

"Lucas' saving grace is that – regardless of how fast he's running or how much he's hurt, with the exception of one quarter in one game – he catches the ball better than anyone we've had since I've been here," Ainge said. "He's got great hands. It (toe injury) affected him some in terms of separating and getting away from guys. If it was close, though, he was still going to catch it. That's why he was still able to be so successful."

With Taylor unable to play against Wisconsin, the job of picking up the slack will fall to Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe. Rogers was second to Taylor in receptions (53) and receiving yards (587), while Briscoe was third in receptions (49) and yards (456).

Briscoe had his best outing as a Vol in the SEC Championship Game, however, burning LSU's secondary for eight catches, 79 yards and a touchdown. Taylor was limited to two catches for 25 yards and Rogers two for 20 in that game.

Asked what enabled him to enjoy such a dynamic day against the Tigers, Briscoe answered with refreshing modesty.

"It was the matchups we were given," he said. "When teams rotate the coverage toward Lucas, that opens up the slot more on the strong side. It was just me being able to make plays when the secondary rotated away from me and hitting the seam on that quick route to get the yards."

With Taylor limited by his toe, Briscoe stepped up big in the SEC Championship Game. Now, with Taylor sidelined by academics, Briscoe must step up even bigger in the Outback Bowl. He's getting extra reps in practice and he's confident he can pick up the slack in Taylor's absence.

"All year we talked about, 'You never know when it's going to be your game,'" he said. "Lucas has been great for us but it takes everybody on the field being on the same page. He's made great plays, and so have Austin and me."

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