Tough tests await Vol 'D'

Last year 21 points was enough to guarantee a win in most SEC football games. This year it isn't always enough to guarantee a halftime lead.

The Southeastern Conference is more offensive this year, and there are several obvious reasons for that:

Arkansas has a hot-shot new passer. Auburn has a hot-shot new offensive coordinator. Alabama has a quarterback who has far exceeded expectations. And, of course, Florida still has Tim Tebow.

Each of those four teams ranks among the top 20 nationally in total offense. Auburn and Florida are tied for No. 3 at 526.25 yards per game. Bama is No. 8 at 490.50 and Arkansas No. 19 at 443.33.

SEC programs are producing loads of points, as well as loads of yards. Florida ranks second nationally at 45.5 points per game. Auburn (45.25) is third and Bama (40.5) ninth. Ole Miss (35.67) is 24th and Arkansas (32.0) 38th. Georgia, though 44th nationally at 30.75 points per game, has been a juggernaut in SEC competition, hanging 41 points on South Carolina and 52 on Arkansas.

This does not bode well for a Tennessee defense that struggled against Ohio University on Saturday night. If the Vols can't stop the Bobcats, how can they stop 4-0 Auburn this weekend and 3-1 Georgia next weekend?

"It definitely gives us a big challenge because of the points they're putting up and they're capable of putting up," Vol defensive end Chris Walker said recently. "If we're not on our A-game and we don't have the game plan down, they could score a lot of points on us. But I'm really confident in our coaches and the way we're going to play."

Being an SEC defensive player, Walker is understandably intrigued by the dramatic increase in the league's offensive production this fall.

"It's definitely an eye-opener to see how many points are being scored in the SEC, when it's usually a defensive conference," he said. "They're starting to score a lot of points in this conference; that's where we're going with the direction of the conference."

At 2-2, Tennessee needs to win these next two home games to build some confidence and some momentum before getting an open date on Oct. 17, then facing No. 3 Alabama at Tuscaloosa on Oct. 24. Rookie head man Lane Kiffin refuses to acknowledge that Games 5 and 6 are more important than any others, however.

"There are no make-or-breaks in your first year," he said. "We've got a long ways to go, a lot of work to do and a lot of stuff to figure out. We've got a lot of young guys to play and a lot of competition to sort through.

"You're trying to improve and trying to get your team better, which is what we're trying to do. So there is never a make-it-or-break-it your first year."

Still, a 4-2 record heading into their open date would put the Vols in excellent position to post a winning season and earn a bowl bid.

"We do know when that bye is coming," Kiffin said. "We need to play extremely well, keep improving. And then in the bye week we have certain plans that we do with certain players to increase the competition at that point. So this is a big stretch for us -- one game at a time."

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