Head coach Lane Kiffin got the Big Orange excited about facing No. 1 Alabama two weeks ago and got the Vols pumped about facing No. 21 South Carolina last weekend. Getting the team up a third week in a row will be almost impossible, especially since Memphis stands 2-6 on the season and 1-20 in the all-time series with Tennessee. Making matters even worse is the temptation for the Vols to look ahead to next weekend's visit to Ole Miss, a preseason top-10 pick.
Tennessee's players insist they aren't looking past the Tigers but, human nature being what it is, how can they not do so? Conversely, this is a game the Memphis players have had circled on their calendars all year. It's also an opportunity for them to salvage a season that has been a bitter disappointment to date.
"We know they are going to come to play," Kiffin said. "I would imagine this is the biggest game of the season for them. I know they have a bunch of Tennessee kids on their roster."
Many of those "Tennessee kids" were snubbed by Vol recruiters as high school seniors, so they would like nothing better than to get some redemption at the expense of the Big Orange this Saturday night.
Also working against Tennessee is the fact the Vols are hobbling after physically taxing games against Bama and Carolina. The loss of Savion Frazier to a season-ending ACL tear is especially costly, given the critical role played by the middle linebacker in UT's defensive scheme. That was evident when the Vols had to adjust to the loss of MLB Nick Reveiz in Game 4. The defense struggled in the second half vs. Ohio U that night, then played poorly throughout a Game 5 loss to Auburn.
"Losing Savion Frazier, we have now lost our second starting linebacker for the season at a position that was already not very deep," Kiffin said, adding that backups Herman Lathers and Nigel Mitchell-Thornton "are going to have to step up because this is such a valuable position. We saw what happened when Nick Reviez went out. In the transition to Savion Frazier, we played about six quarters of our worst defense."
Tennessee cannot afford to play poorly on defense Saturday night because Memphis has some firepower. The Tigers average 232.1 passing yards per game - 25 more than UT - and have some imposing targets in 6-9, 230-pound Carlos Singleton and 6-4, 205-pound Duke Calhoun.
Throw in the fact that Memphis head man Tommy West is a former UT player and assistant who is battling to save his job, and it's obvious that the Tigers have a lot more motivation than the Vols this weekend.