Justin Wilcox: Looking back on Montana, forward to Cincinnati
Tennessee Stat Book
Rushing the quarterback wasn't the only concern for the Tennessee defense last season. So was a rushing quarterback.
One game into a new season is still too soon to dismiss old concerns, especially when the second game brings Cincinnati senior quarterback Zach Collaros to Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon. He might be the best quarterback UT faces all season.
Pressuring him will be one challenge. Tackling him in the open field will be another. There's also the guessing game of when he's going to do what.
"When a quarterback can move, it's like you are one short somewhere," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "You're either going to compromise his ability to run, and he's going to gash you. Or you better have all that protected, and it's going to slow you down on the pass rush or pull one out of coverage. It's hard."
The Vols didn't have to view much video of Collaros to see how hard. The same video probably provoked flashbacks.
In seven games last season, opposing quarterbacks totaled 381 yards (not including yardage lost on sacks) on 61 carries for a 5.9-yard average. LSU's Jordan Jefferson had an 83-yard touchdown run. Georgia's Aaron Murray had a 35-yard run. Five different quarterbacks had runs of 17 yards or longer.
The Vols can't match those yards. They rely on quarterback Tyler Bray to throw, not run.
Cincinnati will rely on Collaros to do everything. That's not a new development.
Collaros, who is 6-foot, 223 pounds, led the Big East in passing yardage last year. He saved the Bearcats' 12-1 season in 2009 when he came off the bench in place of injured Tony Pike.
He had 555 yards total offense in a victory over Connecticut. He had a 75-yard touchdown run on which he broke a tackle and outran a defensive back to the end zone in a victory against South Florida.
He didn't become the best quarterback in the Big East just by running. The running complements his passing, which he does effectively from the pocket or on the move.
"It's hard to find guys who have the ability to run the ball and be a real accurate down-field passer the way he is," Dooley said.
Collaros' track record isn't the only reason UT fans should be concerned about Saturday's game. There's also Tennessee's recent track record to consider.
Lesser quarterbacks than Collaros have bedeviled the Vols in these early-season nonconference games.
Three years ago, UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft shrugged off four first-half interceptions and completed 12 of 14 passes for 150 yards in the fourth quarter to lead the Bruins to a come-from-behind overtime victory in the season opener. Two years ago, Ohio quarterback Theo Scott completed 30 of 52 passes for 319 yards.
Last year, UAB quarterback Bryan Ellis passed for 379 yards, and backup quarterback David Isabelle rushed for 63 yards. It was an effective pass-run combination.
So is Collaros. But he doesn't need a backup.