War Eagle Extra has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 4 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Opponent preview: Tennessee

The blog's look at every opponent on Auburn's schedule this season continues today with Lane Kiffin and Tennessee.

In case you missed the beginning of our opponent previews, you can click on Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, West Virginia and Ball State to go back and read the first four installments.

Also, our Twitter page is taking the world by storm (140 characters at a time). Follow the War Eagle Extra on Twitter here.

Tennessee Volunteers
  • Head coach: Lane Kiffin (1st season)
  • 2008 record: 5-7 (3-5 SEC, 5th East), no postseason
  • Returning starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense)
  • Total offense: 268.8 (11th SEC, 115th nationally)
  • Total defense: 263.5 (t-1st SEC, 3rd nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads 26-21-3
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 14-12 last year at Jordan-Hare Stadium
  • Consensus prediction: Third place in the SEC East
Five-week schedule glimpse
  • Sept. 19: at Florida
  • Sept. 26: Ohio
  • Oct. 3: Auburn
  • Oct. 10: Georgia
  • Oct. 24: at Alabama
There weren't two teams in the SEC that went through as much upheaval last year than Tennessee and Auburn. In the Vols' case, a sub-par year due in large part to one of the most anemic offenses in the country led to the firing of Phil Fulmer, who had spent 30 years at Tennessee, first as an assistant coach and for 17 years as the head man. Enter Kiffin, a brash up-and-coming coach who says and does most anything he feels like, regardless of who's toes he's stepping on. The Vols broke the bank on an assistant staff that includes longtime NFL coaching vet Monte Kiffin, uber-recruiter Ed Orgeron and former Auburn running backs coach Eddie Gran. Now, with a strong defensive unit returning and a fresh start on offense, everybody seems to think UT is back on the upswing.

To find out if that's the case, I contacted Wes Rucker of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Here's a short bio he sent along with his answers to my questions.
Wes Rucker has covered UT football in two stints totaling seven years, the past three as a Knoxville-based beat writer for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He has also helped cover Georgia and Alabama for the Times Free Press, which won College Sports Matchups' "Best SEC Coverage" award last season. He has been honored by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association, the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists and United Press International. Read his regular Vols coverage here, his blog here and follow him on Twitter here. You contact him at wrucker@timesfreepress.com.
AB: New coach Lane Kiffin has certainly made an impression in his first year on the job, raising Tennessee's national football profile while making a few enemies (Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer most notably) along the way. Has Kiffin been mostly just bravado or has he made tangible strides that suggest he's actually righting the ship?
WR: The more time I spend with Kiffin, the more I get the feeling he definitely has a plan for this once-prominent program. That plan won't please everyone, and it will certainly continue to irritate many, but Kiffin has never seemed to care about that. His priorities seem simple: Get UT football back to where it was recruiting many of the nation's best players and coaching them up into NFL draft picks. He felt a part of that process was getting UT back in the national media by nearly any means necessary, and there's no doubt he accomplished that task. He has sincerely backed down the past few weeks, but not because he felt pressure to; he just considered it time to put full focus on the combination of this year's team and this year's recruiting class. He'll still step on toes, because that's just who he is. He says what he wants to say in most situations, and he's not typically concerned with hurting someone's feelings. He doesn't view that as disrespect toward anyone, though. In his mind, UT is UT, and everyone else is everyone else, so why care about everyone else's feelings? He's an interesting coach to cover, for sure, and I'm sure this season whichever route it takes will be one worth covering because of his brash entrance into a manly man's league.
AB: The Vols ranked 107th nationally in passing offense last year and return the quarterbacks — Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens — who were mostly responsible for it. Will the quarterback situation be any improved this season under Kiffin's tutelage and who will wind up being the starter?
WR: If UT's passing game is one tiny bit statistically worse than it was last season, at least a handful of assistants and maybe a head coach will be forced to look for new jobs. Failure to meet lofty expectations is a coaching death sentence up here; ask Fulmer and Johnny Majors, two of the program's most celebrated champions. I've said since the start of spring practice that Kiffin will start Crompton in the season opener against Western Kentucky, and I've just as consistently since then stated that Stephens would be the better choice. I wasn't sure whether Stephens was a better choice than B.J. Coleman, but I figured both had to be better than what Crompton showed last season. Crompton, for all his impressive physical skills, has never been able to translate those skills from the practice field to Saturdays. He's had four offensive coordinators in five years something that would hinder any player's development but he's also just never shown any "savvy" or "moxie" when the Vols needed it. And, as anyone who coaches, plays, covers or just watches games in this league can tell you, a quarterback without those skills is a 6-foot-whatever paperweight. Crompton and Stephens will enter preseason camp tied atop the depth chart, and Kiffin would like to name one the clear No. 1 as soon as possible. If it's a fairly-judged competition, I'd bet on Stephens. But I can't guarantee that. In fact, I think Crompton will squat under center on UT's first offensive play of the Kiffin era while a rocket-armed, emotional Stephens stands, helmet in hand.
AB: Tennessee signed two of the top running backs in the country last winter in Bryce Brown and David Oku. Will either steal carries away from senior Montario Hardesty, or for that matter, can either unseat him as the starter?
WR: Hardesty was a premier prospect coming out of high school in North Carolina, and some people including yours truly think a nearly unfathomable stretch of injuries have kept him from showing nothing more than glimpses of that promise. Hardesty has battled through torn knee ligaments, injuries to both ankles (which caused foot stress fractures, because he practiced so hard through the pain) and other football-related ailments, but he's been healthy enough since spring to show more frequent glimpses. He's smart, strong, quick and fast enough to make a major impact as every-down back, if he's healthy which is never a safe bet, unfortunately. The stunning transfer of junior Lennon Creer to Louisiana Tech and torn knee ligament to surprisingly impressive January enrollee Toney Williams have opened opportunities for Brown, Oku and Tauren Poole to get plenty of carries in an offense with recently-depleted depth at wide receiver. Oku and especially Brown have pleased coaches this summer with their focus, attitudes and potential. Their game-readiness (or lack thereof) will start showing itself next week. Brown, an extremely focused, health-conscience (vegetarian) young man, could very well leave camp as the No. 2 tailback. Oku could be used in certain packages before gaining every-down strength in the weight room, and Poole is tough, between-the-tacklers runner who will be a nice asset assuming he holds onto the ball.
AB: Although largely overshadowed by the offense's ineptitude last year, the Tennessee defense finished third nationally in total yards. What effect will the arrival of 69-year-old Monte Kiffin have on that unit and, with the return of all-world safety Eric Berry, can the Vols' defense be as good this year?
WR: UT's defense was very good last year. Some statistics hinted at greatness, but I think 'very good' would be a better description. The Vols are underrated along the defensive line, in my opinion remember the names Chris Walker and Ben Martin and their secondary is well known, starting with the All-American Berry and All-SEC potential players in cornerback Brent Vinson and versatile defensive back Dennis Rogan. Whether the Vols are as good on defense this year won't come down to the first or third levels, though. The linebackers will be the key. All-SEC weaksider Rico McCoy is a known commodity in the league, and he'll probably collect NFL paychecks this time next year, but the Vols are unproven at middle and strongside. Former walk-on Nick Reveiz — yes, that's former UT kicking All-American Fuad Reveiz's son will battle Herman Lathers for the middle backer job, and talented but un-SEC-tested players Savion Frazier and LaMarcus Thompson will fight for the final starting spot. Several freshmen, some of them true freshmen, are also possibilities. Good linebacker play (and a healthy Berry) would make the Vols a typically-tough, Tennessee defense. Bad linebacker play will create another hole in a team that can't afford many more leaks.
AB: Tennessee is only two years removed from a 10-win season and an SEC championship game appearance, so the cupboard can't be completely bare. What can this team reasonably accomplish this season?
WR: This is the toughest one to answer, especially since last year was the worst preseason miscalculation in my nearly ten years of beat reporting. I knew last year's Vols wouldn't compete for the SEC East title, but wow, I never saw "5-7 and see ya, Phillip" coming. I've thought about this a lot all summer, and here is the best I can come up with: The best you can expect is 9-3, the best you can reasonably expect is 8-4 and the most realistic you can expect in 7-3. Scanning the schedule, I see very few games UT could play horribly and win. I see plenty of games that could go either way. And I see two tossups games that could make their season 6-6, 7-5 and 8-4. Those two games are home dates with Georgia and South Carolina. Those are winnable games if the Vols stay healthy and play well. While anything better than 8-4 would stun me, another losing season certainly wouldn't and that's always possible in the modern SEC, even for programs with UT's money-growing trees (And a side note: Where do they plant those things, anyway? I've been looking for years.)
NCAA '10 on PlayStation 3 says ... Auburn 31, Tennessee 18. Another solid showing by the Tigers (4-1, 2-0 SEC), who lead 17-11 at the half and score two third quarter touchdowns -- one a 78-yard touchdown pass from Kodi Burns to Tim Hawthorne, the other a 14-yard touchdown run by Ben Tate -- to pull away for the win. Strange day for Burns, who goes 21-for-34 for 324yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Mario Fannin has the most rushing yards with 74. Both Hawthorne (111 yards) and Montez Billings (117) top the century mark in receiving. Defensively, Auburn has four sacks and three picks, one by Mike McNeil, one that was returned 72 yards by Aairon Savage (hey, the rosters ain't perfect) and one 26 yards and a touchdown by who I think is T'Sharvan Bell (the numbers are a little off).

Up next: Another SEC road trip, as Auburn heads to Fayetteville to take on Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks in Arkansas.


Kolkata web Design said...

Good posting its well blog, i more like it!

Surat said...

Wow fantastic post!