published Monday, October 17th, 2011

Vols face another tough test

KNOXVILLE -- Derek Dooley's word of the week is likely going to stay the same for a second consecutive week.

That's bound to happen when you play the nation's top two ranked teams back to back.

"This is a stature game," the University of Tennessee football coach said following the Volunteers' 38-7 loss to No. 1 LSU on Saturday. "It's big guys hitting you, and you have to have big guys that can hold up for four quarters."

The Vols held up for only two quarters against the talented and physical Tigers, and the challenge is similar this week with a trip to second-ranked Alabama at the end of the week. The Crimson Tide rely on their power running game and a loaded defense much like LSU.

UT prepared for the physicality last week, and they'll have to do it again.

"I believe that was one of the most physical games we've come out and played," said A.J. Johnson, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound freshman linebacker who made a team-high 11 tackles. "We knew it was coming. All week in practice we were preparing for it and playing downhill and stuff."

"We just came out fighting," said defensive lineman Malik Jackson, who was active with eight tackles. "We knew what they were going to do and we knew they wanted to run the ball, and so we kind of stuffed it up."

At least in the first half on Saturday, the Vols met the physical challenge. UT, which entered the game with minus-29 yards rushing in Southeastern Conference losses to Florida and Georgia, had identical rushing yardage and a better yards per carry average than LSU.

"We were doing it, basically," said right tackle Ja'Wuan James. "We were running the ball, we were getting on our man and we were blocking. In the past, we just weren't getting the job done.

"We showed ourselves, and we showed everybody and the team that we can run the ball. It was questioned a lot. Now we just have to be consistent. We have build on it every week."

The Tigers took over in the second half, running for 182 yards and wearing down UT's defense. LSU's stature advantage on the perimeter was evident in the first half, and the deeper and more talented Tigers showed it across the board in the second half. Dooley said LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson's success on simple quarterback runs showed the stature deficit.

"It's depth, size, speed," the coach said. "A lot of times we were in position. We know it's coming and we are kind of in position, and the guy runs around us and scoots on an edge and powers through.

"I saw some good things. In every game there are things that disappoint you. In every game there are things you feel good about. That game was not complex."

With the Vols gearing up to stop LSU's run, UT's cornerbacks were left in single coverage on the outside. Georgia was able to have success running by UT's defenders and throwing over the top, but LSU was more successful with short passes that forced the Vols to make a play in space.

Alabama tailback Trent Richardson currently has a streak of six consecutive games with 100 yards rushing after the junior's 183-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Tide's 52-7 road rout of Ole Miss. His 65-yard third-quarter run was part of a 21-0 third-quarter onslaught in Alabama's 41-10 win in Knoxville last season.

As it's been for more than two weeks, UT's defensive staff certainly will be preaching for the Vols to win some one-on-one battles in the secondary.

"We've just got to get the job done," said Prentiss Waggner, who potentially could move from free safety to cornerback, where he played most of the second half on Saturday with freshman Brian Randolph at free safety.

"One-on-one, man-on-man, you've got to play aggressive on the edge and make a play. I think it's half mental and half physical. I think you've got to have the right talent, the right technique and you've got to be relentless on the edge."

The Vols will need to be more relentless with another stature game ahead of them.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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