Pass less, win more

He's passing for just 153.1 yards per game, down a whopping 65-plus yards from last year's norm of 218.9. Yet, some observers believe he's the most improved player in the Southeastern Conference.

How can this be? Simple. Opposing defenses are so concerned with stopping Alabama's potent ground attack this season that they're easy pickings for quarterback John Parker Wilson. Minus the pressure of having to carry the offense, he is thriving in 2008.

Whereas he was the Tide's leading man last fall, attempting 35.5 passes per game, Parker Wilson is merely a part of the supporting cast this fall, averaging just 21.7 passes per game.

Although he is throwing the ball with less frequency this season, he is throwing it with much greater efficiency. His completion rate has risen from 55.2 percent in 2007 to 60.5 in 2008 and his passer-efficiency rating has soared from 114.6 in '07 to 133.2 in '08.

Basically, Bama's ground game is so strong that Parker Wilson has the luxury of throwing the ball because he wants to ... not because he has to. That's why the Tide is 7-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally heading into Saturday night's game at Tennessee.

"Anytime you can line up and just run the football, it takes a lot of pressure off of you offensively," Vol defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell said. "They throw the football when they want to. They don't get in situations often where they HAVE to throw the football."

Even so, Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis believes Parker Wilson has grown considerably since last fall.

"Looking at John Parker," the Vol aide said, "I saw him go from a talented guy last year to being a guy that's not only talented but in full control of what they're doing offensively."

Phillip Fulmer, who tried to recruit Parker Wilson out of Hoover (Ala.) High School four years ago, believes the Bama QB is one of the best around

"He's got really good vision," Tennessee's head coach said. "He's very accurate. He can scramble his way out of trouble. And last year he picked our young secondary apart. That was not a good day for us."

That might be the understatement of the year. In an otherwise mediocre 2007 season, Parker Wilson put together a career day vs. the '07 Vols – completing 32 of 46 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions.

As great as Parker Wilson looked vs. Tennessee last fall, he is even more effective now that he isn't having to shoulder so much of the offensive burden.

"He's a guy that plays within their system," Chavis said. "He's got a lot of savvy. He's a tough individual. He can make plays running; he can make plays with his arm. He's a complete quarterback."

In addition to having the SEC's premier ground attack at his disposal, Parker Wilson benefits from having the league's finest offensive line in front of him. Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell are potential first-team All-Americans.

"We may see the best offensive line we're going to see," Chavis said, "and that certainly makes it a lot easier for a quarterback to be able to do the things he can do."

Of course, it could be that Parker Wilson's perceived progress is a mirage created by all of the talent around him. Maybe, if Tennessee can stop Alabama's ground game Saturday night and force the Tide to throw the ball 35 times, his newfound poise will evaporate and his old flaws will be exposed. Chavis isn't really expecting that, however.

"Right now he's operating as well as anybody in this league, and we've got some really fine quarterbacks in this league," the Vol aide said. "You look at (Florida's Tim) Tebow, who wins the Heisman as a sophomore. You look at (Matthew) Stafford at Georgia and the kind of year he's having as a junior. Then you look at Wilson and the way he's responded.

"Last year he was up and down. He's having a great year this year. When you look at it, a lot of the things they're doing offensively start with him."

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