Mike Strange: In the trenches, Vols and Gamecocks wage a clash of titans

Mike Strange
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) scrambles as he is chased by South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida won the game 44-11.(AP Photo/John Raoux)

Photo by John Raoux

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) scrambles as he is chased by South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, in Gainesville, Fla. Florida won the game 44-11.(AP Photo/John Raoux)

Once upon a time Jadeveon Clowney might have been playing for Tennessee, headed back to South Carolina to face the home-state Gamecocks.

Back in headier days, UT frequently raided South Carolina for top talent. Defensive linemen were at the top of the list.

The 1998 national champions boasted three South Carolinians — Shaun Ellis, Darwin Walker and Jeff Coleman — in the defensive starting front four.

Shortly, Albert Haynesworth followed them to Knoxville.

In the current climate, however, wrecking balls like Clowney and Devin Taylor stay home and play for the Gamecocks.

And Saturday they will be at the top of Tennessee's to-do list.

"They're probably the most disruptive front four we have played all year,'' warned UT coach Derek Dooley.

At the edges of the front four are Clowney, a sophomore, and Taylor, a 6-foot-8 senior.

"He can wreck your game plan,'' said Dooley, "and he does it to almost every team.''

It wasn't clear whether he was speaking of Clowney or Taylor. The description applies to either.

But fortunately for Tennessee, the Vols aren't headed to a knife fight with a dull fork.

At the edge of Tennessee's offensive line are tackles Ju'Wuan James and Tiny Richardson.

"We've got some good offensive linemen, they've got some good defensive linemen,'' said Richardson.

"It's going to be a clash of the titans type deal.''

One critical way the clash will be measured is in quarterback sacks.

Tennessee has allowed but three sacks all season — one each by N.C. State, Florida and Georgia.

Only Air Force has allowed fewer (zero), largely because the Cadets run an option offense. The Vols have attempted 256 passes, Air Force 74. North Texas and Oklahoma State have also allowed only three sacks.

South Carolina's defense has recorded 29 sacks in eight games, which ranks fifth nationally.

"It's going to be a pretty good battle,'' predicted James in the understatement of the week.

Sacks are poison to an offense, almost as disruptive as a turnover. You lose yards and a down. A sack almost always wrecks a drive.

Two years ago, the Vols allowed 41 sacks in Dooley's helter-skelter first season, including six by South Carolina. James, Zach Fulton and James Stone were thrust into starting roles as true freshmen.

Last year, the total was down to 18. Now, they're juniors (joined by senior Dallas Thomas) and protecting Tyler Bray is an immense point of pride.

"Freshman year was a big learning point,'' James said. "That's half the reason why we're in the position we are.

"Coach Dooley gave us a chance to go out there and play at an early state of our career. That's paying off now.''

On the other hand, Richardson, the left tackle, is a first-year starter. But he has an NFL physique and is living up to promise UT held when it signed him.

Clowney will be his greatest challenge. The former No. 1 national recruit has quickly morphed into everybody's All-American.

"In this conference you go against good players every week,'' said Richardson. "My confidence is up and I'm going to treat like just another player.''

Just another titan, he means.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 18

hikerdude writes:

I really don't understand why most posters on here are surprised (and upset) that we are 3-4. Any realistic analysis at the beginning of the season would have concluded that this would be our record at this stage and that we would lose to SC this Sat. If Bray and Hunter play as well as they did at the beginning of the year, we'll win the last four games and wind up 7-5. If they quit, as they appear to have, well only win one of the last four and will wind 4-8. Dooley might survive a 7-5 season but he won't survive 4-8.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to hikerdude:

I really don't understand why most posters on here are surprised (and upset) that we are 3-4. Any realistic analysis at the beginning of the season would have concluded that this would be our record at this stage and that we would lose to SC this Sat. If Bray and Hunter play as well as they did at the beginning of the year, we'll win the last four games and wind up 7-5. If they quit, as they appear to have, well only win one of the last four and will wind 4-8. Dooley might survive a 7-5 season but he won't survive 4-8.

Probably surprised and upset because they(we) didn't expect the problems on defense to be so significant this season. If the defense was playing close to last season, we'd be 5-2 or better at this point. The offense played well enough to beat Georgia, MSU and Florida, but the defense allowed too many big plays and too many points.

6972 writes:

Clowney is a beast and will be a handful. He has already shown that to be the case. Just hope he doesn't make us look like clowns. I remember with no fond memories a few years ago a defensive end for Florida was a one man wrecking crew. Maybe we can avoid that.

10seVol85_Part_Deux writes:

in response to 6972:

Clowney is a beast and will be a handful. He has already shown that to be the case. Just hope he doesn't make us look like clowns. I remember with no fond memories a few years ago a defensive end for Florida was a one man wrecking crew. Maybe we can avoid that.

Clowney's a guy who could have gone straight from high school to starting on Sundays instead of Saturdays. Hopefully, our coaches are scheming for him.

KingDanno (Inactive) writes:

Tyler is lucky to have the O-line watching his back. If he starts getting sacked, I would like to see how he reacts to the pressure. I thought he would have packed on alot more muscle at this point too. Bray will bring his A game, Dooley can't blame the ppl forever. He's knows he is on his way out. If he can get a 7-5 record and win a bowl game, maybe he can walk out of here with his head high. But make no mistake, he still should be walking out of here!

TooDlems writes:

in response to KingDanno:

Tyler is lucky to have the O-line watching his back. If he starts getting sacked, I would like to see how he reacts to the pressure. I thought he would have packed on alot more muscle at this point too. Bray will bring his A game, Dooley can't blame the ppl forever. He's knows he is on his way out. If he can get a 7-5 record and win a bowl game, maybe he can walk out of here with his head high. But make no mistake, he still should be walking out of here!

Really, you want to see how he handles pressure? Just the fact that Worley is getting more reps in practice will cause him to fold like a cheap army tent.

VOLS_SEC_RULES writes:

UT will have at least 3 penalties for an offensive lineman either lining up too far back or moving before the ball is snapped. At least one will occur in the UT's first possession. Richardson will be involved in a least one of these.

SouthPaVol writes:

The offensive line is a point of pride in an otherwise dismal season. The big uglies have hung in there and made a name for themselves as a good O line. I am happy for this group of guys who stuck together and kept working, especially through the last two seasons when they took a lot of criticism.

The media created poster boys out of Bray and our wide receiver corps at the start of the season; but even worse, our good players started believing their own press. Now our supposed first-round QB might be benched; fans are disappointed that our built-up stars never panned out.

My left handed comment: let's wait until the end of the year before we hang super star status around a guy's neck. Go Vols!

LifetimeVolFan98 writes:

in response to SO_GLAD_THEY_LOST:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Funny....sounds like several posters on this website...they pout, they cry and they act like spoiled little children.

I don't think Hart makes a decision until the end of the season....I don't think he's one to pull the trigger in the middle of the season.

RockyMtnVol writes:

I will continue to post this message, UT will not fire CDD, there is no money to pay for the last two staff changes, we just spent over $200 million on renovations, there is a pending law suit and a bunch of yahoo water cooler accountants that believes UT can pay out $9.3 million for CDD and team and THEN hire another group for twice that figure........please stop using drugs, it's a dangerous thing to the brain.

bigdisbig writes:

Hiring Dooley was a moronic mistake by UT. He had NO background of winning against quality teams. His recruiting is weak and after this year will be even weaker. SC used to be a hotbed of talent for the Vols and now why would any 5 star recruit want to come here? Who impresses potential recruits more....Spurrier, Saban, Miles, Rict or Dooley? The only hope Dooley has of landing a good recruit is promising them playtime. Most recruits who are 4 or 5 star are being recruited by coaches who will be there next year. Dooley is questionable year to year. If he loses to SC he WILL be canned for the team will hit an all time low. Hart cannot allow the bleeding to continue. Hopefully the Athletic Dept. has learned that you get what you pay for.

sameolvolalum writes:

in response to LifetimeVolFan98:

Funny....sounds like several posters on this website...they pout, they cry and they act like spoiled little children.

I don't think Hart makes a decision until the end of the season....I don't think he's one to pull the trigger in the middle of the season.

Aptly posted, lifetimer. Frustration among fans during a losing spree isn't unique to this group. All big-name supporting fans have a contingency who'll feel this way. The Vols will get better or will get a new coach, but the decision won't come forth until this season is over. I'll just keep screamin' GO VOLS!

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Frankly I'd rather be playing Bama's defense than USC..They took a pretty good GA offense and made them look like bumbling fools.The front seven was coming thru the lines from every direction.They may have lost to FLA but they held them to 30 first half yards and 183 for the game!! Pease was pulling out every trick in the book to fool them..Chaney doesn't have any tricks and a book that USC has been reading for 3 years.I really hope Bray can keep his composure and play well because Worley will probably dish up an INT by his 5th pass against this defense

CoverOrange writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

Probably surprised and upset because they(we) didn't expect the problems on defense to be so significant this season. If the defense was playing close to last season, we'd be 5-2 or better at this point. The offense played well enough to beat Georgia, MSU and Florida, but the defense allowed too many big plays and too many points.

I, like most, expected the defense to struggle but not to the extent they have and like Hikerdude, largely expected us to be 3-4 going on 3-5 at this time. What I didn't expect was to see Bray and Hunter be virtually shutdown with games on the line. If we had last years defense we would be 6-1, if we had the offense we saw against NCSt, we would be 6-1 or so.

CoverOrange writes:

in response to KingDanno:

Tyler is lucky to have the O-line watching his back. If he starts getting sacked, I would like to see how he reacts to the pressure. I thought he would have packed on alot more muscle at this point too. Bray will bring his A game, Dooley can't blame the ppl forever. He's knows he is on his way out. If he can get a 7-5 record and win a bowl game, maybe he can walk out of here with his head high. But make no mistake, he still should be walking out of here!

We saw how he reacts to pressure in Ga, Fla, MSU and Bama games. He gets hurried and throws inaccurately. The offense line may not have given up sacks but Bray has felt pressure several times.

Receivers need to get open on shorter routes or Bray needs to decide it is okay to throw shorter routes.

HopeisNotaCourseofAction writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

I, like most, expected the defense to struggle but not to the extent they have and like Hikerdude, largely expected us to be 3-4 going on 3-5 at this time. What I didn't expect was to see Bray and Hunter be virtually shutdown with games on the line. If we had last years defense we would be 6-1, if we had the offense we saw against NCSt, we would be 6-1 or so.

Ifs, buts, couldas, wouldas and shouldas for the past 3 years. We beat cupcakes and lose to ALL the ranked and mid tier SEC teams.

Get ready for another refrain of the same old same old Saturday - Bray is 'out of sync' cuz its a ranked team with, ya know good players, and he only has good days against the ackrons and ga states. The usc qb has his career day against our D.

Troy, mo, commodes and ky are just around the corner, and none with winning records - help is on the way!

PUL4VOLS writes:

My prediction for what will go on in the trenches Saturday coincides with Clubber Lang's (Mr.T)in one of the Rocky Movies...PAIN! I really can only hope we are giving it instead of receiving it. All points seem to indicate, we will be getting it.(Please don't be assinine and ask if I will actually be playing, I WON'T!)

OrangeMike writes:

in response to 10seVol85_Part_Deux:

Probably surprised and upset because they(we) didn't expect the problems on defense to be so significant this season. If the defense was playing close to last season, we'd be 5-2 or better at this point. The offense played well enough to beat Georgia, MSU and Florida, but the defense allowed too many big plays and too many points.

Dude, Fl was a joint effort. The D gave up the big plays and got down by 7, then Chaney panicked and Bray and the rest of the "skill" positions quit. They looked just like they did in Lexington last year, which until that game I attributed to DaRicks's attitude. Had the O answered Fl's first two second half scores, the D would have been riding the pine and Fl would not have scorred the last 17.

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