Tennessee Stat Book
Herman Lathers hits every running back the same, and he doesn’t make any exceptions.
Not even for friends.
That puts Ole Miss tailback Brandon Bolden squarely in the crosshairs of the Tennessee linebacker on Saturday (TV: WVLT, noon) at Neyland Stadium, a fact that apparently hasn’t escaped either of them this week. And at least coming from Lathers, it means Bolden should know exactly what to expect as the Rebels and Vols (3-6, 0-5 SEC) try to claw closer to a possible bowl game.
“I talked to him the other night,” Lathers said of his former Scotlandville (La.) High School teammate. “He just called and told me about the hit he saw against (Mark) Ingram and the sacks I got against Alabama. He said they’re going to be prepared for it.
“Just like every other team, they prepare for stuff like we prepare for stuff. They practice like we practice, and we’re going to be prepared too.”
Versatile quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has been at the top of the checklist as the UT defense has gone through practice this week, which has operated as if the senior will play despite concussion concerns. But Bolden is right behind him thanks to a productive junior season that has him ranked sixth in the conference in rushing with 760 yards and fourth in the league with 12 total touchdowns.
The Rebels (4-5, 1-4) are also capable of throwing the ball around a little bit, but whether it’s Masoli or Bolden, the top priority for the Vols will be slowing them down on the ground. And if it’s Bolden, Lathers is counting on his background to provide a little help.
“Just like any other opponent, you’ve got to be ready for anything,” he said. “It’s more of an advantage to know what he’s going to do, know how he plays and it should help you.
“He’s very good, very fast and he’s a big guy so we just got to gang tackle him. … We’ve just got to be prepared.”
Paper Or Plastic: Tennessee was clearly growing tired of counting the times it got close to the opposing quarterback.
After spending most of the season with little else to tally up though, the Vols were obviously relieved to pile up five sacks against Memphis and have some meaningful numbers to point to this week.
“It felt good for us to get out there and finally put a complete game together as a defensive line, as far as rushing the passer,” defensive end Chris Walker said. “We have a different opponent coming in here, a different quarterback that’s very mobile, so we have to be constant in having lane integrity.
“But that’s not going to slow us down when it’s third-and-long. We’re going to pin our ears back.”
Masoli will give the Vols something to think about when they’re rushing him, and he can make a team pay if it’s too aggressive — a point defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has stressed after facing him twice during his career at Boise State and Masoli’s at Oregon.
“You pick and choose your times to blitz him and also what coverages you play, because you need people with eyes on him,” Wilcox said. “You have to have people with eyes on him, because if you’ve got your back turned on the guy, he’ll run it up the field, make one guy miss and he can make a big play.”
Bumps And Bruises: Right guard Zach Fulton (ankle) and cornerback Marsalis Teague (turf toe) could both miss Saturday’s game without some improvement after the final practice of the week.
Teague doesn’t appear to be full speed yet and coach Derek Dooley was less optimistic about his availability as the week progressed. Fulton was limited on Thursday and appears unlikely to play against the Rebels.
Tight end Luke Stocker (concussion, staph infection) was again in a red, non-contact jersey. The senior is expected to play.
Neyland Maximum: The Vols will be unveiling a twice-life-size statue of coaching legend Gen. Robert R. Neyland today at his namesake stadium as part of the Homecoming festivities.
The statue will be located between gates 15A and 17, and the grand debut will be open to the public today at 2:30 p.m.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.