Slade brigade faces tough test

Earlier this week I asked Vol secondary coach Larry Slade how the Miami passing attack he faces this Saturday compares to the South Carolina passing attack he faced last Saturday. <p> Slade stammered momentarily, then laughed. I laughed, too.

The question was a joke. Comparing South Carolina's aerial game to Miami's would be like comparing a plowhorse to Secretariat. In other words, there's NO comparison.

Whereas the Gamecocks feature one of the worst passing attacks in college football, the Hurricanes boast perhaps the finest passing attack in college football. Quarterback Ken Dorsey is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr., is a virtual clone of his father, who was a perennial All-Pro for the NFL's San Diego Chargers during the 1980s. Winslow, Jr., leads Miami with 32 catches for 357 yards. The Hurricanes also feature one of the NCAA's premier deep threats in Andre Johnson, who has 28 receptions for 489 yards -- a sparkling 17.5 yards-per-catch average. Then there's tailback Willis McGahee, who averages an eye-popping 18.8 yards per catch coming out of the backfield.

Although Miami represents a secondary coach's worst nightmare, Slade relishes the challenge of facing a big-time passing attack.

''Sure, it gets you psyched up, gets you motivated,'' he said. ''You want to do well against good people. You respect teams like South Carolina and those people but when you play a Miami, you know it's going to be taken up another level. And you know YOU have to take it to another level.''

Tennessee's defensive backs performed at a pretty high level last weekend against Carolina, intercepting three passes while limiting the Gamecocks to five completions in 19 attempts for a mere 45 yards.

''I don't care who you're playing against; if you can do that, you're excited about that,'' Slade said. ''We can build on that. That can buy you a little respect, but it's about Miami now.''

And Miami is about big plays. The Hurricanes have the talent to score from anywhere on the field. That puts enormous pressure on Tennessee's secondary.

''The role of the secondary is to stop the big play and make the big play,'' Slade said. ''When you can say, 'We only had one pass for 24 yards (vs. Carolina),' that's exciting. That's how you discourage offenses. They're going to catch a ball now and then. It's critical this week that we're consistent and we're disciplined.''

Vol defensive backs were unusually consistent and disciplined last Saturday. Slade was even more impressed with them after reviewing the game film.

''The thing that jumps out at you was that there were very few critical errors,'' he said. ''When we grade our players, we put the critical errors in red. If you see a bunch of red on the DBs grade sheet, you've probably lost the football game.''

Even if Tennessee's DBs limit their critical errors to a bare minimum this weekend, that may not be enough to shut down the high-scoring Hurricanes.

''They are so good and have so many ways they can get after you, that you've got to do it well,'' Slade said. ''We talk in the secondary about 'zero defects' and doing it right every time, because when you don't do it right, they'll make you pay for it.''

Although Miami's passing game appears complex, that isn't the case.

''Really, it isn't,'' Slade said. ''That's why they're so successful. They're not going to do a million things. They're not going to have 100 different runs. They have a few but they do them awfully well, and they have play-action off those runs.''

Coming off their strong showing last weekend in Columbia, Tennessee's defensive backs have plenty of confidence as they prepare to meet the Hurricanes. They'll need it against a Miami passing game that is light years ahead of Carolina's.

My pick: Miami 27, Tennessee 20.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories