Paper Vols

Watching what Alabama did to the 2007 edition of Tennessee's defense was like watching a shredding machine chew up a Sunday edition of The New York Times.

The destruction was coolly efficient and brutally complete. The Tide gained 510 yards, kept the ball for 37½ of the game's 60 minutes and annihilated the Vols 41-17.

Suffice to say, Tennessee's defensive coordinator cringes when he goes back and watches that game film.

"I don't like to look at it," John Chavis admitted during a break in preparations for Saturday night's rematch at Neyland Stadium. "Certainly, (you remember) when you get embarrassed – and we were embarrassed by that performance last year."

Tennessee was young in the secondary last October, and Bama's John Parker Wilson took full advantage, completing 32 of 46 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns.

"They were able to take advantage of some things and did a tremendous job," Chavis recalled. "You've got to give them credit for that but you want to put your best foot forward. When you don't meet the standards you've set, then you'd better look at yourself and you'd better figure out ways to do that."

Given how Bama embarrassed Tennessee a year ago, many fans believe the Vols will have vengeance in mind Saturday night. Chavis dismisses that idea, however.

"I'm not into revenge or redemption," he said. "It's a football game that will be played between the players from Tennessee and Alabama. There's great history there, and it'll be played between the lines. There's nothing that needs to be said that will change that."

Whereas Bama beat Tennessee with a pinpoint passing attack in 2007, the Tide relies more on a bruising ground game in 2008. Alabama leads the SEC in time of possession (32 minutes, 44 seconds per game), and ball control is a key reason Nick Saban's team is 7-0, ranked No. 2 nationally and averaging 32.3 points per game this fall.

"That's a big part of it," Chavis conceded. "If you look at time of possession, that tells you a lot right there. They've been able to possess the football for long periods of time. They're leading the league in time of possession, and I don't think that's by mistake. I think it's their commitment to run the football, and they do it quite well."

Given Alabama's strong reliance on the run game, you'd figure Tennessee would sell out to stop the run. Kentucky tried that strategy three weeks ago and lost 17-14.

"You look at the film and it's a little bit scary," Chavis noted. "Kentucky did a great job slowing their run down but they (Tide) had receivers behind people all the time. You get concerned about that, in terms of giving up a play."

Even when you crowd the line of scrimmage, stopping Bama's ground attack is no simple task. Tide coaches are committed to running the football and go to great lengths to keep the rushing attack productive.

"They use their personnel well and they use a multitude of shifts and motions to help them run the football," Chavis said. "And they're talented enough so that, when you put all of those things together, you (defense) have got to be right."

If you guess wrong, you'll pay dearly ... as Kentucky did three weeks ago.

"Kentucky made one mistake in the run game," Chavis noted, "and ultimately it cost them a 72-yard touchdown run and that was the difference in the ball game."

Although Chavis said new Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain "has put his stamp on there," the Tide's philosophy hasn't changed significantly.

"They do a great job of running the football," Chavis said. "They do what Coach Saban wants their offense to do – run the football, keep their defense off the field, make first downs and score points. They do a tremendous job of that."

Can Tennessee stem the Tide? That's a mystery. Seven games into the 2008 season the Vol defense remains something of an unknown quantity. Georgia burned UT for 458 total yards, 29 first downs and 42:04 of clock time in Game 6 but Mississippi State managed just 189 yards, 13 first downs and 30:55 of clock time in Game 7.

So, where is the Vol defense heading into Game 8?

"It's hard to say," Chavis said. "You'd like to think that you're always climbing to the point that you want to reach. There's no question about that. But there's always going to be some ups and downs. Sometimes you take a step back. You don't like that but you're not going to be at your best all the time. That's a fact of life, no matter what you do."

Nodding toward the dozen or so reporters on hand, he added: "Some of you guys do a great job of writing stories and some of them, from time to time, aren't very good. You're still trying to get better every day, and that's what you try to do as a football team."


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