QB won't matter vs. Vandy

The ongoing debate concerning who Tennessee's quarterback will be this weekend at Vanderbilt is a moot point. The Vols should be able to handle the hapless Commodores (2-9 overall, 0-7 SEC) with Phillip Fulmer behind center.

Vanderbilt is a team with severe limitations, a circumstance which has been magnified by a glut of injuries. At full strength, the Commodores might give the Big Orange a real struggle. In their current state, the 'Dores will be lucky to keep the game reasonably competitive ... whether Casey Clausen or James Banks is UT's quarterback.

''We're really beat up on offense right now,'' Commodore coach Bobby Johnson says. ''We may not have any scholarship tailbacks available. It's a pretty serious situation for us on offense right now. We're just going to have to figure out what we can do. We may have to throw a little bit more than normal.''

If the Commodores elect to ''throw a little bit more than normal,'' Saturday's game could turn into a rout. Vandy's best bet is to run the option, eat up clock and hope for a big break or two. The Commodores' passing attack ranks among the SEC's worst, despite the presence of star-quality receiver Dan Stricker.

It's a safe bet Tennessee won't be throwing much Saturday. The Big Orange beat Mississippi State with a run-heavy offense last weekend, and the Vols undoubtedly will rely on the same formula this weekend. My guess is that Clausen will dress out but not play unless something extraordinary happens (Banks gets hurt or the Vols lead by less than 10 points entering the fourth quarter).

No disrespect intended, but if the Vols can't beat Vandy without putting Clausen at risk of further injury, they don't deserve to win anyway. Banks proved vs. MSU that he's capable of making the routine plays, and that's all the Vols should need this weekend. The flashy freshman has improved significantly since making his collegiate debut at quarterback a month ago against Georgia.

''Against Georgia, we pretty much called a play and ran it, no matter what defense they were in,'' Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders recalls. ''Against Mississippi State, he had some things where he had to recognize certain looks and check and do some things. He handled those things pretty well. It wasn't much -- it was still a pretty simple plan -- but he still had to solve some problems for us, and he handled that pretty well.''

While Banks isn't the passing threat Clausen is, he is better than he showed last weekend (3 of 8 for 90 yards).

''I don't think James threw the ball as well (vs. Mississippi State) as he did against Georgia,'' Sanders says. ''Against Georgia, it was warm and no wind was blowing. Down there (Starkville) Saturday, it was cold and the wind was blowing pretty hard, and I think that affected the way he threw it.''

Banks has progressed noticeably in recent weeks, largely because he's been getting the lion's share of practice work while Clausen has been sidelined.

''Just getting the number of reps James has gotten has made a huge impact,'' Sanders says. ''He's way farther along than he was after the Georgia game.''

Another factor weighing in Banks' favor this weekend is that Vanderbilt plays a pretty basic defense. Whereas Mississippi State relied heavily on blitzes and disguises that could fluster a freshman QB, the Commodores are relatively vanilla in their defensive scheme. That should make things easier for Banks.

''Vanderbilt is not a real gambling defense for the most part,'' Sanders says. ''There are times they'll roll the dice a little bit but, for the most part, they're really sound with what they do.... That part of it's good because they're not unlike the defenses we faced in spring practice and two-a-days.''

If Clausen plays Saturday, Tennessee should win in a romp. Even if he sits this one out, though, Banks should be good enough to lead the Vols to a comfortable victory.

My pick: Tennessee 27, Vandy 7.

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