KNOXVILLE—The quarterback is dangerous as a passer and a runner.
The tailback averaged more than 6 yards per carry in a 1,029-yard season last year.
The big-play receiver caught eight touchdown passes last season as the second option.
It’s a multifaceted challenge for the Tennessee defense when Cincinnati’s spread offense rolls into Neyland Stadium this afternoon, and a unit that is still feeling itself out could have its hands full. The Bearcats led the Big East Conference in scoring and yards last season.
“[They’re] probably going to see a lot of holes in our defense,” Volunteers coach Derek Dooley said. “They’re going to probably be feeling pretty good this week, that’s what I think. This is going to be a big game for them.
“They had a tough season last year, and this is probably an early monumental game in their eyes to keep their program at the level it’s been. We’re going to get their best, there’s no question. They’re going to be revved up and ready to go.”
Despite the impressive offensive output, Cincinnati won just four games last season. The Bearcats ranked last in the conference defensively, allowed 33 sacks and were minus-15 in turnover margin, but the offense’s playmakers are back.
Cincinnati’s quarterback-tailback-receiver combo of Zach Collaros, Isaiah Pead and D.J. Woods certainly has the Vols’ respect, and defensive line coach Lance Thompson compared the three to South Carolina’s trio of quarterback Stephen Garcia, tailback Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Collaros makes the Bearcats go. The senior threw for 2,902 yards and 26 touchdowns last season and averaged 326 yards of offense in five games in relief of the injured Tony Pike on the 2009 Cincinnati team that went 12-0, won the Big East and lost to Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
“He makes a lot out of nothing sometimes,” UT defensive coordinator Justin Whttp://media.timesfreepress.com/img/photos/2011/07/29/UT.JPGilcox said. “That’s a pain in the butt for a defense, because even when everything is covered, he can make somebody miss and go scramble and buy some time and create a big play.”
The Vols lost containment on the edge on Montana quarterbacks Jordan Johnson and Gerald Kemp in the season opener, and improving that has been an emphasis for the defensive line this week.
“When you rush this kid, you can’t take your eyes off of him,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to have your eyes on him, and you’ve got to be in front of him. You can’t be high and be by the quarterback, because he kills people.
“We made a scramble tape, and when he’s out of the pocket their receivers do a great job downfield finding spots to get open, and this is like a designed play. When he breaks out of the pocket, they know exactly where they’re going, and usually they result with some big plays for their offense.”
When Collaros isn’t throwing it to Woods or former UT signee Kenbrell Thompkins, Pead likely is doing his damage. The stout 200-pound back is the Big East’s top returning rusher.
“That’s what makes spread offenses good — when you have a good, heavy runner who can make big plays because you can’t load up the box,” Dooley said. “You’ve got to stop the run with about the same numbers as what they have blocking. That becomes tough.”
UT’s best chance at slowing Cincinnati will be putting pressure on Collaros, staying disciplined at all three levels and tackling well in space.
“There’s a lot of things about their offense that we have to stop,” said Vols defensive end Jacques Smith from Ooltewah. “We’re breaking them down by bits and pieces on film, and we’re going to come out and do our job.”
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 ...