Vols will miss the Kevins this week

Tennessee's defense will miss injured linebackers Kevin Burnett and Kevin Simon more than usual this weekend. That's because the Vols are preparing to face one of the NCAA's fastest offenses (Miami's) without two of their fastest defenders.

''If you've got that kind of speed, it's always a plus for you,'' Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis said. ''We've recruited speed. We want to put as much speed on the field as we can.''

In addition to the Kevins, Tennessee has played the entire season without defensive end Constantin Ritzmann, its best speed pass rusher. He'd be a big help this weekend, as well.

''Those guys are probably three of our better athletes,'' Chavis conceded. ''We don't have 'em, so we've done a fairly good job with the ones we've had. I think our entire defensive football team has stepped up and tried to take up some slack for the injuries.''

Tennessee's defense faces its sternest test to date vs. Miami. The Hurricanes average 480 yards and 43 points per game. The Vols, by comparison, average 383 yards and 26 points per game.

Tennessee's major emphasis -- as it is each week -- will be stopping the run. That means trying to slow down Willis McGahee, Miami's talented tailback. Willis has 1,034 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns through the Hurricanes' first eight games. He's so good that he reminds head coach Larry Coker of three standouts he coached previously -- Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas (Oklahoma State) and Eddie George (Ohio State).

''Willis is a lot like those guys,'' Coker said. ''Willis is an outstanding back. When we've had a good running game and good running backs, I've been a much better football coach. Barry, Thurman and Eddie George ... Willis is in that category. He's had a great year. He's got great strength, and he's got outstanding speed. I think he compares favorably to that group.''

Can Tennessee stop McGahee? Maybe. But the Vols' chances would be greatly enhanced if they had Kevin Burnett, Kevin Simon and Constantin Ritzmann in uniform this weekend.

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