Tennessee Stat Book
AP Top 25 College Football
ATLANTA - A missing cornerback is nice.
But if Lane Kiffin had a choice, the Tennessee coach would probably take somebody else away from a talented Virginia Tech defense.
There's a play-making safety, an intelligent linebacker and a couple terrors at defensive end that might be better candidates, though Kiffin won't complain about academically ineligible Stephan Virgil's absence Thursday (TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m.) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It's just difficult for the Vols to find a way to really capitalize on it.
"I think the scheme they play is not very demanding on the corners," Kiffin said. "They make it difficult to attack them. They're not a press-man team where he's going to be out there on the field all day long and they're going to leave him in man coverage.
"They run a very unique defense, a very unique coverage; and they don't ask those guys to be matched up one-on-one very much, so it's kind of hard to go after one of their corners."
Even if the Vols (7-5) aren't specifically targeting some inexperienced replacements for Virgil, they'll still be trying to test a secondary that's been among the best in the nation this season.
The Hokies (9-3) gave up just 161 yards per game through the air and ranked sixth in the country against the pass, though that wasn't with Cris Hill or Jayron Hosley in the starting rotation.
"Both have practiced well," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said of Virgil's replacements. "I think we're going to end up playing both of them and see how it goes during the game. Both of them are talented enough, but they just need to rise to the occasion, and hopefully they will.
"We haven't really talked about (starting). What we've talked about is that both of them are going to play."
It's not like they won't have help when they're out there, either.
Kam Chancellor is still in the lineup at the back of the defense at safety. Ball-hawking linebacker Cody Grimm and his 99 tackles are available in the middle, and Nekos Brown will be supplying pressure up front. The starting cornerback who did stay eligible is no slouch on the other side, and Rashad Carmichael will be looking to add to his team-high five interceptions.
The Vols have largely avoided throwing many down the stretch, but they figure to at least give the Hokies a few chances to snag one tonight - no matter who's on the field.
"As we look at it, if there's someone else that you'd rather have them lose, it wouldn't be a corner," Kiffin said. "You'd rather attack somebody else."
Full Speed Ahead: The Vols are as close to perfect health as they can get. They apparently have managed to avoid adding any self-inflicted wounds as well.
For the second consecutive day Kiffin addressed issues with focus and staying out of trouble, but indicated nobody will be missing when UT takes the field against Virginia Tech.
"I thought our players have really done a better job the last couple days of being focused," Kiffin said. "When you first get here, it's such a great bowl and such a great city with so many events, it can be easy to get distracted.
"But we're all still here and accounted for and I like what they've done."
Primetime Show: For the most part Kiffin has downplayed any sort of momentum that can be generated from a bowl win. But always mindful of recruiting, he is certainly aware of the impact a New Year's Eve showcase could have on the future of the program.
"I don't think it really sets the tone for next year because you lose so many great players off the team and teams change every year," Kiffin said. "I think it does kick-start us as far as recruiting and getting back and hitting the road after the game and calling recruits.
"It's the only game being played on New Year's Eve on national TV, so I think someone said there's usually four or five million people watching the game. That's obviously very important for this year's class coming up, but also for classes to come."
Size Matters: Chancellor was hard to miss when breaking down film, mostly because he doesn't look much like a safety at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. After sizing him up this week, Vols offensive coordinator Jim Chaney actually compared him physically to UT defensive end Chris Walker, which can create a lot of problems moving the ball.
"I think the thing that was notable to me last night is their big safety (Chancellor)," Chaney said. "He's about the size of Chris and he plays in the box. He's a very physical player and he can adjust to everything."