After coaching in the NFL for 26 years, Kiffin is coordinating a Tennessee defense that will face top-ranked and unbeaten Alabama at 2:30 Central today in Tuscaloosa. Slowing down Tide tailback Mark Ingram, who ran for 246 yards last weekend vs. South Carolina, is Job One. If the Vols accomplish that, though, Job Two will be to keep McElroy from torching them through the air.
McElroy, a 6-3, 220-pound junior, was very good in Game 1 vs. Virginia Tech (15 of 30, 230 yards), better in Game 2 vs. Florida International (18 of 24, 241 yards), precise in Game 3 vs. North Texas (13 of 15, 176 yards) and brilliant in Game 4 vs. Arkansas (17 of 24, 291 yards). He rallied from a slow start in Game 5 vs. Kentucky to finish 15 of 26 for 148 yards.
Through five games, McElroy was 78 of 119 (65.5 percent) for 1,086 yards with 9 touchdowns and 1 interception. But the last two games he struggled mightily - 15 of 34 for 147 yards vs. Ole Miss and 10 of 20 for 92 yards vs. South Carolina.
"For whatever reason, he's had two games in a row where he was a combined under 50 percent completions with no touchdown passes," Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin said earlier this week. "It just hasn't been clicking for him for two games. But he hasn't made the major mistakes - throwing interceptions for touchdowns. He's made some mistakes but they haven't been big."
That's where Monte Kiffin comes in. His job will be to use blitzes and disguised coverages to rattle McElroy into making a few game-changing mistakes. That's no simple task, however, because Nick Saban is reluctant to put a game on his quarterback's shoulders.
"The head coach is a defensive-minded head coach that loves to run the ball," Lane Kiffin noted. "If things aren't going well, he leans to his defense, turns around and hands the ball off."
After watching McElroy on tape, Tennessee defensive end Chris Walker is reminded of a quarterback the Vols already faced.
"He's similar to the Todd kid from Auburn," Walker said, referring to Tiger senior Chris Todd. "He's going to find his open receivers, and he's not going to miss any throws. When it comes time for them to pass the ball, we're really going to have to be on our A-game because they have a great receiver in Julio Jones."
Jones certainly looked great as a freshman in 2008, ranking third among SEC receivers in catches (58) and receiving yards (924). He also averaged a hefty 15.9 yards per catch.
This season, however, Jones has been more decoy than dynamo - catching just 13 balls for 175 yards and a 13.5-yard average. Still, he has Tennessee's respect and attention.
"He's a phenomenal player," Lane Kiffin said. "Julio is as dangerous as they come with the ball. I don't see teams taking away very much. I just think they don't throw him the ball."
Perhaps Jones isn't 100 percent healthy. Perhaps opponents have double- and triple-covered him. Perhaps he's not as motivated as he was last fall. Whatever the case may be, he's undaunted and the Tide is undefeated.
"It's hard to argue with what they're doing," Lane Kiffin said. "They're a great offense and they run the ball. But you always have to be prepared for him. He only has one touchdown all season but he can very easily get three or four in a game real quick."
If Jones gets "three or four" today, that means Monte Kiffin wasn't able to rattle Greg McElroy. It also means the Vols are in for a long afternoon.