Tennessee Faces Tough Task in the Trenches

A Tennessee offense that has fizzled more often than it has sizzled this season faces it toughest task in the trenches this Saturday against an Alabama defense that is allowing a paltry 83.1 yards rushing per game.

Conversely, Tennessee is averaging just 140 yards on the ground per contest. That's down from the 154 yards per game the Vols averaged last season which was only good for fifth in the SEC. The 154 yards per game is half UT's record 306.8 yards per game gained in 1951.

Tennessee's leading rusher, Jabari Davis, is averaging just 56.7 yards per game, the lowest since Reggie Cobb topped the Vols rushing chart in 1988 with an average of 49.8 yards per game.

Speaking of lows, it should be pointed out that Tennessee's offense has scored just 43 points vs. three SEC teams in regulation play. The Vols scored 13 vs. Florida, 17 vs. Arkansas (before adding 24 more in six overtime periods) and 13 vs. Georgia. Overall this is the lowest point output against three SEC teams since 1988 when the Vols scored 17, 9 and 6 points respectively vs. Georgia, LSU and Auburn.

Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen has stated the Vols would have beaten Georgia at Athens with him at quarterback, but he only led the UT to 30 total points in regulation play at home against lesser defenses of the Gators and Razorbacks.

If Clausen, as expected, gets the chance to prove his point against Alabama, he will be facing the toughest defensive front the Vols have seen all season. Only Miami on Nov. 9 projects as better in its front seven among Tennessee¹s opponents this year.

The Crimson Tide has an experienced unit led by three seniors in the front four. Kenny King (6-3, 280) is nose tackle, Kindal Moorehead 6-4, 294 is right defensive end and Jarret Johnson (6-4, 287) is the left defensive tackle. Sophomore left defensive end is sophomore Antwan Odom (6-3, 273) who may be the most talented of the bunch. The Vols won¹t get any breaks inside when Bama dips into its second unit up front as Ahmad Childress (6-7, 345) and Anthony Bryant (6-3, 345) are immovable forces at the tackle spots.

Alabama's linebackers are physical and mobile led by Freddie Roach (6-2, 238) in the middle, Cornelius Wortham (6-1, 233) on the strong side and Brooks Daniel (6-2, 205) on the weakside or at the rover.

Tennessee tackle Michael Munoz recognizes the challenge for the offensive line and knows it will be a physical confrontation.

"They are very good," Munoz said. "As a unit, they have been around for awhile and have a lot of experience. They are going to come off the ball and hit you in the mouth, so we need to come ready to play."

Munoz also believes Tennessee's offensive front will face their toughest competition to this point in the season.

"To this point they are (the best)," he said. "Seeing them on film, they are extremely quick. Florida was very fast and from what I have seen of Miami they are very quick. Time will tell as to which team really is better."

The good news from Tennessee's standpoint is Alabama's front will not be difficult to find. The Crimson Tide limit their defensive schemes and play it pretty straight compared to Arkansas and Florida which both stunted and blitzed frequently.

"They are really not too difficult of a defense," Munoz said speaking of the Tide's straight up style. "They just line up to play and that is what they do. There is a little bit of movement and a little bit of blitzing. Mostly they just play hard and have really good athletic ability. Those two things are a really good combination for a good defense."

Tennessee can be encouraged by the success Georgia had on the ground against Alabama. The Bulldogs, who came into their encounter at Tuscaloosa as the SEC¹s 11th ranked rushing team averaging just 112 yards per outing, gained 161 yards against Alabama including 126 in 21 carries by Musa Smith for an average of 6.0 yards per attempt. Vol fans might recalled that Smith gained just 29 yards in 19 carries two weeks ago against UT.

The return to action of tailback Cedric Houston could prove a boost to Tennessee¹s ground attack as could the ongoing maturation of Gerald Riggs Jr.

But essentially, the Vols will have to win the battle up front to win a game that is critical to their season.

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