Vols Need Intangibles To Survive Hurricanes

A cursory look at the upcoming Tennessee-Miami game might give Vol fans false hope that an upset of the Hurricanes is brewing in Big Orange Country.

Miami comes into the contest after struggling to beat Rutgers; actually trailing going into the fourth quarter 17-14 before rallying to a 42-17 win. In the game before that, the Hurricanes had their troubles at West Virginia which followed on the heels of Miami1s near-defeat experience at home vs. Florida State. The Hurricanes dodged an arrow aimed straight for the heart in that game when the Seminoles failed to nail a game-winning field goal from short range and fell 28-27.

Now Miami ventures to Knoxville, completing a trying three-game road trip while tangling with a Tennessee team that appeared to find itself in a victory over South Carolina last Saturday. The prevailing theory seems to be that the pressure is on Miami while the Vols are simply playing the role of spoiler in front of 107,000 friendly fans.

No one could argue that Miami has more to lose while Tennessee has a golden opportunity to regain a large measure of national respect. The Vols can also restore some good will with their fan base that has been damaged by a disappointing season, and avoid a third home loss which would be the most since 1988 when UT lost four home games en route to a 5-6 record.

Do the math and it looks like Tennessee has a decisive edge in the all important "intangibles" category. However a quick look in the history book reveals the potential for mayhem by Miami.

The last time Miami lost significant ground in the BCS poll following a victory was Nov. 12, 2001, two days after the Canes scored a late defensive touchdown to turn back Boston College 18-7. Instead of playing out its dissatisfaction in the press, Miami responded to the perceived slight by posting back-to-back pastings of Syracuse 59-0 and Washington 65-7.

The Hurricanes went on to complete a perfect season and capture the national championship in the Rose Bowl by blasting Nebraska 37-14. Since that day, Miami has tacked eight straight victories to its 30-game winning streak and are right back in national title contention.

Standing in their way are two other undefeated teams in Ohio State and Oklahoma and a remaining schedule that includes Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. The Panthers and Hokies have to go to Miami while Tennessee is Miami's last serious road test. Also standing in the way of a Hurricane repeat is opinion, which is all the BCS or any other poll can claim to be.

That could place the Vols in the wrong place at the wrong time. Miami has a 22.5-point margin of victory in previous road contests this season and in their biggest road challenge, the Canes trampled the Gators in The Swamp 41-16.

Conversely, Tennessee is 3-2 at home including a six overtime victory over Arkansas. The Vols have a paper thin ten-point edge total in five home contest this season and are only averaging only 21 points per game in regulation play at Neyland Stadium.

No this isn't the battle of gridiron titans most had anticipated entering the season, and it1s not the showcase of talent it would have been on Jan. 3 in Pasadena had the Vols beaten LSU in the SEC title game.

The 2001 Miami and Tennessee teams lost a total of 21 players to the NFL or one player short of a complete starting lineup. Miami had the most players drafted with 11 followed by UT with 10. As good as the Hurricanes are this year, they're not nearly the caliber of club they were last year. The same is true of Tennessee. Furthermore, the Vols aren't nearly the team that started this season.

News of crippling injuries seem to come from UT's campus like casualty figures were reported from Vietnam in the late sixties. The likely loss of left tackle Michael Munoz may prove most disabling to an offense that found its bearings against South Carolina with 241 yards rushing.

Not only do the Vols lose a dominating presence and a reliable protector of Casey Clausen's blind side, they lose Anthony Herrera at guard where he played so well last week after returning from his own two-week absence to injury. This isn't an offensive line that can absorb losses or reshuffle the deck without significant drop off.

Throw in the questionable status of starting fullback Troy Fleming and starting tailback Jabari Davis and Miami's formidable front seven suddenly looks invincible.

If there's a bright spot for Tennessee in this analysis of intangibles, it might be: while the Vols are buoyed by their modest one-game winning streak, the Canes are burdened by their 30-game victory string.

Any team that carries that type of run of success can expect every opponent to lay it on the line. Since it's impossible to dip into the emotional well too often in one season, you depend more on talent and precision performances to carry you through.

Since talent is well distributed among the Division I ranks, the pressure to perform becomes greater while the ability to produce declines. Eventually you run into that team that has your number when you have nothing left in the tank.

That's not the probable scenario for Saturday but, then again, the entire 2002 Tennessee season has fallen outside the realm of probability.

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