Will Sanders run it or gun it?

Since Alabama leads the SEC in rushing defense -- allowing just 83.1 yards per game -- you figure Tennessee will go to the air early and often in Saturday night's shootout at Neyland Stadium.

Of course, Alabama also leads the SEC in sacks (24) and ranks second in pass-efficiency defense, so an all-out aerial assault doesn't exactly qualify as a fool-proof solution, either ... especially given the fact that Tennessee's mediocre pass protection resulted in a fractured clavicle for quarterback Casey Clausen.

''I don't think it's going to be a game where you line up and throw it 60 times and plan on winning,'' Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. ''I don't think it's going to be a game where you line up and run it 60 times and plan on winning. We're going to need to generate some plays.''

BIG plays, preferably ... the kind that light up a scoreboard.

''We need an easy score,'' Sanders said. ''Last year we got an easy score on short-yardage when Travis Stephens cut it back, made a guy miss and went 60 yards. In my mind, that's an easy touchdown -- when you get a guy make somebody miss and go the distance.''

Unfortunately for Tennessee, Vol backs haven't made many people miss this season. Sanders concedes the point but hints that UT's run-blocking is partly to blame.

''I don't we've made as many people miss this year as Travis did,'' he said. ''But I'm not sure the backs have had as much room to make people miss as Travis had last year. It's hard to make 'em miss when they've got you hemmed up in a small space. I think it goes both ways.''

Tennessee's ground game could get a boost if Cedric Houston is cleared to play after missing two games with a hand injury. He was averaging 6.9 yards per carry prior to the injury. Asked if Houston will play vs. Bama, Sanders nodded.

''I think so,'' the coordinator said. ''We're hopeful he'll get a smaller cast -- make it easier to take handoffs and catch pitches, things like that. He's got fresh legs, I know that.''

Another tailback the Vols would like to get more involved is Derrick Tinsley, who caught a touchdown pass and threw a touchdown pass against Georgia. He also had a 21-yard scrimmage run in that game. Tinsley, however, seems injury prone.

''Derrick's a guy we need to keep trying to get the ball to,'' Sanders said. ''Derrick has shown he's good with the ball but, if he gets it too much, he has trouble finishing the game. There's a fine balance in there -- getting him his eight, 10, 12 touches per game -- but not getting it to him so much that when you need him in the fourth quarter, he's not over there with the trainer.''

Given the fact that Houston and Tinsley are banged up -- plus the fact Tennessee leads the SEC in pass efficiency with a 150.6 rating -- some fans are hoping the Vols will fill the air with footballs Saturday night. That's highly unlikely.

''We're going to have to run the ball,'' Sanders said. ''We're not going out there and throw it 60 times with a quarterback who has a bad shoulder and expect to win. You start throwing it that much and allow the guys to tee off, it's like putting a big target on Casey's jersey.

''We're going to have to find a way to be effective running it, give 'em different looks, mix it up, move the quarterback around a little bit. You can't leave him in the same spot like he's got bricks around his ankles.''

It's entirely possible that Alabama's defensive linemen are so good that they may just run right through Tennessee's pass protection.

''They line up and whip people physically upfront,'' Sanders said. ''And they bring a lot of different looks on defense to try and confuse you. It's a combination. When you start trying to create confusion with good football players, it creates problems.''

Whatever Alabama's defense is doing, it's working.

''They've played seven games and held five teams under 300 yards total offense,'' Sanders said, adding that the Tide limited Oklahoma, Ole Miss, North Texas and Southern Miss to a combined four-game total of 66 rushing yards. Incredibly, unbeaten Oklahoma had minus-23 rushing yards against Bama.

''They're a good defensive team,'' Sanders noted. ''REALLY good.''

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