Key matchup: Vol guards vs. Price

Tennessee guard Vladimir Richard is battling a sore Achilles tendon this week but he'll be facing a much more imposing battle Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

That would be UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price.

Price is a 6-2, 300-pound junior with a low center of gravity and a high level of talent. He numbered 14 tackles for loss - 4.5 of them sacks - among his 35 stops in 2008. He also intercepted a pass and blocked a PAT en route to first-team All-Pac 10 recognition as a true sophomore.

A preseason All-American for 2009, Price made the watch list for the Bednarik Award and the Nagurski Trophy, both awarded annually to the NCAA's premier defensive player. He's also in the running for the Lombardi Award (nation's top lineman) and the Outland Trophy (nation's top interior lineman).

Since Price is an elite player, his individual matchup with Vol guards Richard and Jacques McClendon shapes up as one of the keys to Saturday's game. That's assuming Richard can play, of course. The 6-4, 300-pound senior is UT's most athletic blocker but he played just two series against Western Kentucky last weekend before giving way to backup Cory Sullins, a senior walk-on.

"Cory Sullins went in last week and did a good job but this is different this week," Vol head coach Lane Kiffin noted. "He was uncovered a lot of the time because of the 3-4 front. If you're a guard this week you've got to line up against Brian Price at 3 technique - one of the most dominant D-tackles in college football. It will be a big-time test for whoever's playing in there."

McClendon understands this better than anyone. He was called upon to block Price several times in UCLA's 27-24 defeat of the Vols last September at Pasadena. Price recorded four tackles that day, including two for minus yardage.

Is he as good as McClendon has faced?

"Oh, definitely," the 6-3, 324-pound Vol senior said. "He's a preseason All-American. He's got great moves. He's real quick, real strong. He's the real deal. We've definitely got a task at hand with him. He's going to be a handful. We're just going to have to make sure we practice hard all week and be able to battle with him."

If Price were UCLA's only quality defender, UT could double-team him and send a fullback at him from time to time. That's a luxury the Vols can't afford, however, since the Bruins' front seven also features one of the NCAA's top middle linebackers in 6-1, 240-pound Reggie Carter.

Carter is on preseason watch lists for the Bednarik Award, the Lott Trophy and the Lombardi Award. In case Vol fans have forgotten, he's the guy who cost UT a likely touchdown by causing Arian Foster to fumble at the UCLA six-yard line in last year's game. Carter registered 20 stops a week later vs. Brigham Young and wound up leading the 2008 Bruins with 83 total tackles.

With Price and Carter plugging the middle, Tennessee is not likely to gain anywhere near the 380 rushing yards it posted vs. WKU in Game 1.

"We're going to need Jonathan (Crompton) and our passing game and our tight ends to play extremely well because this is a physical defense," Kiffin said. "They have a 3 technique (Price) that is probably a first-round draft pick, a middle linebacker (Carter) that is making a ton of plays and is very physical, and two defensive ends can really rush us. We're going to have to be able to hit on all cylinders."

It will help if the Vols have a healthy Vladimir Richard to hit on Brian Price, too.

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