Pass rush critical for UT

Football can be a very simple game, and today's showdown between Tennessee and Ole Miss (11 a.m. Central kickoff in Oxford) is a perfect example.

The Rebels have a quarterback who is very effective when he has plenty of time to throw but who is very ineffective when he doesn't. Thus, the Vols' task is to make sure he rarely has time to throw.

Consider Jevan Snead's season to date:

- With ample time to throw in Game 2 vs. Southeastern Louisiana, he completed 16 of 28 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns.

- With no time to throw in Game 3 vs. South Carolina, he completed just 7 of 21 for 107 yards.

- With ample time to throw in Game 4 vs. Vanderbilt, he completed 19 of 34 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns.

- With no time to throw in Game 5 vs. Alabama, he completed just 11 of 34 passes for 140 yards with four interceptions.

- With ample time to throw in Game 6 vs. UAB, he completed 15 of 22 passes for 240 yards and three TDs.

- With ample time to throw in Game 7 vs. Arkansas, he completed 22 of 33 passes for 332 yards and two touchdowns.

- With no time to throw in Game 8 vs. Auburn, he completed just 16 of 35 passes for 175 yards with two interceptions.

- With ample time to throw in Game 9 vs. Northern Arizona, he completed 16 of 29 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns.

Clearly, pressuring Jevan Snead is Job One for the the Vols today at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. That's why Tennessee needs a big game from its premier pass rusher, defensive end Chris Walker. He returned to action last Saturday vs. Memphis in Game 9 after missing Game 8 due to back problems.

"It was big having Chris Walker back, having him healthy for the most part and playing after sitting out the week before," head coach Lane Kiffin said. "He makes such a difference to us because he is so fast that you have to account for him."

Walker knows he must have a productive game today if Tennessee is to slow down Snead and the Ole Miss passing attack.

"We're going to have to get a lot of pressure on him just to frustrate him a little bit, because he has a lot of great people he can get the ball to," Walker said. "Obviously, Dexter McCluster's a great player, so we're going to have to do a good job of containing. It's going to take a concentrated effort from everybody on the defense."

McCluster isn't Ole Miss' most dangerous pass catcher, however. Shay Hodge has more than twice as many receiving yards (733 to 352) and three times as many receiving TDs (6 to 2) as McCluster this fall.

The obvious key to today's game is this: Will Snead and the Rebels play the way they did in thumping Arkansas 30-17 on Oct. 24 or will they play the way they did in losing to Auburn 33-20 one week later?

"You never know in the SEC what team you'll get," Walker conceded with a smile and a shake of his head. "Anybody can be beat on any day and anybody can seem like the best team in the country on any day."

The Vols (5-4 overall, 2-3 SEC) need a win today to become bowl eligible. The Rebels (6-3, 2-3) need two wins to be bowl eligible, since two of their victories to date came against Football Championship Subdivision teams. Clearly, there's plenty at stake.

"It's starting to really get down to crunch time for both teams," Walker said. "They were highly touted at the beginning of the year and they're looking for wins now. We're trying to get into a really good bowl game. It's going to be a really good game for both of us."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories