Vols prepare for near-perfect foe

Here's a bad omen: A Tennessee football team that has been unusually mistake-prone is getting ready to face an Alabama team that is coming off a near-perfect performance in last Saturday's 42-7 pounding of No. 22 Ole Miss.

''Someone told me the coach (Dennis Franchione) said they probably played as close to a perfect game as he's ever seen,'' Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis said earlier this week. ''When you watch them on film -- how they dismantled Ole Miss -- I'd say he's not far wrong.''

Asked what else he learned from the Tide-Rebel game film, Chavis replied: ''Obviously, they can run the football. The quarterback (Brodie Croyle) did a good job executing the offense.''

Chavis typically speaks glowingly of Tennessee's opponents but the praise isn't hollow this week. Alabama is 5-2 with the only losses coming at the hands of Georgia and Oklahoma, two teams with unbeaten records and top-five national rankings. Apparently, the Tide is for real.

''It's a very talented offensive football team,'' Chavis said. ''It's the same offensive line we played against last year. They've just grown up and matured a lot. Three of them are seniors now and the other two are sophomores.''

Although star tailback Ahmaad Galloway is out for the season, Bama's running game has scarcely missed a beat. Shaud Williams is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and Santonio Beard averages 5.4 per carry. Both topped the 100-yard mark vs. Ole Miss, with Beard scoring touchdowns on runs of 25, 35, nine, two and 10 yards. Ray Hudson is no slouch, either, averaging 6.1 yards per carry as the No. 3 tailback.

''They've got three or four running backs who could play for anybody in the country,'' Chavis said. ''There's no question about that. From a talent standpoint, they're not hurting anywhere.''

Beard set an Alabama school record with a 14.1 yards-per-carry average (10 carries, 141 yards) against Tennessee last season.

''He had a 70-yard run,'' Chavis recalled. ''Obviously, that was a big play in the game for them. We've got to eliminate those plays if you want to slow them down.''

The task of stopping Bama's potent running game is made even tougher by the fact Tennessee's linebacker corps has been depleted by season-ending injuries to Kevin Burnett and Kevin Simon. As a result, starters Keyon Whiteside, Eddie Moore and Robert Peace have been playing almost every snap the past two games.

Asked if he plans to give UT's backup linebackers more playing time this week, Chavis hedged.

''We'll see,'' he said. ''We'll do what we have to do to keep ourselves in position to win the football game. If it takes those three playing 80 snaps, then that's what we'll do. If we get some opportunities to mix in those other guys, we'd certainly like to do that. We need to do that -- not only for them, but also for the future of this program.''

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