Western Kentucky offense

The offensive line allowed 25 sacks last fall. The quarterbacks completed just 50 percent of their passes with more interceptions than touchdowns. The team averaged a paltry 17.5 points per game en route to a losing record.

Yet another recap of Tennessee's 2008 season?

Nope. The above was a recap of Western Kentucky's 2008 season, which just happened to parallel UT's 2008 season ... at least from an offensive perspective.

Consider:

WKU's 25 sacks allowed was an exact match for Tennessee's 2008 total.

WKU's 51.9 completion percentage was slightly better than Tennessee's 49.5 mark.

WKU's 9-to-12 touchdown-to-interceptions ratio was even worse than Tennessee's 8-to-9 ratio.

WKU's 17.5 points per game norm was virtually identical to Tennessee's 17.3 average.

WKU's average of 286.1 yards per game was almost as lame as Tennessee's average of 268.8.

Here's the kicker, though: Whereas the Vols achieved last season's underwhelming offensive numbers against 12 teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Div. 1-A), the Hilltoppers played two of their 12 games last fall against teams from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Div. 1-AA). That's because head coach David Elson's Toppers were completing a two-year transition into big-time football. They'll be eligible for the Sun Belt title and bowl play for the first time this season.

Basically, Western Kentucky shapes up as the ideal foe to usher in the Lane Kiffin era of Tennessee football. The Toppers went 2-10 last season, losing their final eight games in a row.

Given how awful last year's WKU offense was, it should be no surprise that there's a new offensive coordinator for 2009. That would be Walter Wells, who spent the past six years as the Hilltoppers' offensive line coach.

Like first-year Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, Wells' first order of business for 2009 is settling on a quarterback. The departure of 2008 starter David Wolke has left a three-man battle to succeed him. The candidates are senior Brandon Smith, plus redshirt freshmen Marcus Vasquez and Kawaun Jakes.

Smith completed just 3 of 9 passes for 59 yards in the spring game but ripped off a 73-yard touchdown run. Vasquez was 8 of 9 for 115 yards. He also features some mobility, having run 13 times for 90 yards in WKU's second spring scrimmage. Jakes completed 27 of 40 passes for a combined 239 yards in the final two spring scrimmages.

The top three running backs could get off-Broadway work as Munchkins in Wizard of Oz performances. Tyrell Hayden (5-7, 192) rushed for 388 yards last fall, Marell Booker (5-9, 216) for 285 yards and Bobby Rainey (5-7, 203) for 259 yards.

Bottom line: Unless the Toppers have made dramatic strides on offense since last season, they should provide only a modest challenge for Eric Berry and the rest of Tennessee's defense in Game 1.


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