''That's kind of what they've done to stop themselves ... they've put the ball on the ground quite a bit,'' Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis says. ''It's an offense that's got plenty of talent. It's as talented as any good SEC team is. They've got good skill people ... people capable of making big plays.''
Mississippi State is hoping to get healthy against a UT defense that has lost four of its top six linebackers since August. First, Tony Campbell was ruled ineligible. Then Kevin Burnett went down with a torn ACL in Game 1 vs. Wyoming. Kevin Simon sustained a broken ankle in Game 4 vs. Rutgers and Robert Peace was lost to a broken foot in Game 9 vs. Miami.
All of these injuries have kept Chavis shuffling his linebacker corps all season long. The latest patchwork effort has Keyon Whiteside moving from Will (weakside) to Mike (middle), with redshirt freshman Jason Mitchell stepping into the Will position. Eddie Moore will remain at Sam (strongside) but he is sure to see some action at Will, as well.
The rash of injuries has left UT with just three reserve linebackers -- senior Steven Marsh (who was a safety until six weeks ago), true freshman Omar Gaither and true freshman Marvin Mitchell (who was being redshirted until last week).
The Vol staff regretted having to active Mitchell but felt it had no choice, given the lack of depth at the position.
''He has some good fresh legs, moves around well,'' Chavis said. ''He did a good job (in the Miami game) for us. Now he's going to get a little on-the-job training. We had hoped we could redshirt him but he knew that if we got another injury he was going to play.
''He's a fine young man who's going to be an outstanding football player for us. We've got to get him as many reps as we can in these last ballgames -- get him in on some special teams. He's been preparing to play all year, and that's the key. We felt like a couple of weeks ago he was ready to play but we didn't want to play him unless we had to.''