Vols hope to 'loosen up' Tide

The BCS rankings say Oklahoma is the best college football team in the land, yet Alabama limited the Sooners to minus-23 rushing yards earlier this season. North Texas (37 rushes, 50 yards), Southern Mississippi (26 rushes, 35 yards) and Ole Miss (28 rushes, 4 yards) fared only slightly better against the Tide defense. <P> So, how does Tennessee attack such a sturdy stop unit?

''We're going to have to do some things to loosen 'em up, obviously,'' Tennessee offensive coordinator Sanders said.

Middle Tennessee State loosened up Bama with a triple-option offense that produced 183 yards on 38 rushes, nearly 5.0 yards per carry. Arkansas used a triple-option attack to gain 172 yards on 32 rushes, slightly more than 5.0 per carry.

The problem is, the triple-option is not part of Tennessee's repertoire.

Not in one week, for sure.

On a positive note, Georgia -- whose offense is very similar to UT's -- ran 42 times for 161 yards against the Tide, averaging roughly 4.0 yards per carry. The Bulldogs moved the ball by expertly mixing the run and the play-action pass ... and that will be Tennessee's challenge when the Vols host the Crimson Tide Saturday night at 7:45.

Given Alabama's defensive brilliance, this might be the week the Vols showcase a little razzle-dazzle. Maybe a double-pass ... Casey Clausen making a lateral to James Banks, who then throws deep. Certainly, Banks proved vs. Georgia (10 of 15 for 168 yards) that he can throw the football. In fact, several Vol wideouts are capable of hurling the old pigskin.

''The great thing is, Kelley (Washington) played quarterback, C.J. Fayton was a quarterback, Chris Hannon was a quarterback ... and Banks,'' Sanders said. ''Montrell (Jones) may throw it farther than anybody on the team. So, we've got the receivers that can do it.''

The smile on Sanders' face suggested he was amused by the topic. That probably means the Vols won't be using a double-pass this week ... or ANY week.

Maybe Tennessee could try another halfback pass. After all, Derrick Tinsley threw one against Georgia last time out, and Jason Witten caught it for a five-yard touchdown.

''A halfback pass is something we'd talked about for weeks,'' Sanders noted. ''We were trying to figure out which one of those guys could throw it. To be honest, we don't have a tailback that throws it very well, so we decided that if we were going to do it, we'd better do it in close, so we don't have to throw it very far. Fortunately, it worked.''

Given Sanders' lack of confidence in the passing ability of Vol tailbacks, don't look for another halfback pass this weekend.

Banks, filling in for Clausen at quarterback, had a magnificent fourth quarter against Georgia -- scrambling like a scared rabbit and completing six of six passes for 145 yards in that final period. Arkansas (Matt Jones) and MTSU (Andrico Hines) gave Bama fits with nimble quarterbacks, so maybe Banks' mobility could frustrate the Tide the way it frustrated Georgia in the fourth period.

''Yeah,'' Sanders quipped, ''if we run Alabama ragged for three quarters FIRST.''

Odds are, Tennessee will stay pretty much with its basic scheme this weekend. As Vol head man Phillip Fulmer noted this week: ''You can't wholesale change your offense.'' So what can the Vols do to ''loosen up'' Bama, while staying true to their offensive philosophy?

Throwing the ball to Kelley Washington is an obvious option but the Tide is sure to blanket him ... just as everyone else is doing this season.

Throwing to tight end Jason Witten might work. He had a breakout game against the Tide last year, catching seven balls for 91 yards. The problem is, Tennessee's pass blocking has been so lame that Witten's had to cut back on his route-running lately to help out with protection.

That leaves handing the ball to Jabari Davis (who isn't particularly nifty), handing it to Cedric Houston (who is injured), handing it to Derrick Tinsley (who is injury prone) or handing it to Troy Fleming (see Jabari Davis).

When the Vols go to the air, their options include: forcing the ball to Washington (who's likely to be double-covered), throwing long to Leonard Scott (who isn't likely to catch it) or throwing short to a group of unproven receivers who rarely get separation.

Of course, there's always a chance that Clausen's sore shoulder will prevent him from playing again this Saturday. If so, the Vols will have to put their trust in Banks, a true freshman who was a wide receiver three weeks ago and is still learning the offense.

And you thought Randy Sanders had an easy job ...

My pick: Alabama 20, Tennessee 17.

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