This post continues our series previewing the UT game. Yesterday, we talked about USC's offense and UT's defense. Today, we're talking about our defense and the task it faces. Please note that you can also find tons of great info on the Vols at Rocky Top Talk. The guys over there do a fantastic job.
--The first thing that must be addressed is the case of Justin Worley, the Vols starting QB. There's been a lot of talk about Derek Dooley's choice to start Worley in this game. Many have lampooned the move, while others have touted Worley's prep honors and predicted success for the young Vol. Personally, I have no idea how Worley will perform. We've talked here about how Worley lacks mobility and has a weak arm, but those things may not matter much if he proves to be accurate in the mid-range game and makes good decisions. That alone would make him much better than the lamentable Matt Simms. That said, one thing that must be noted about Worley is that Dooley's choice to start him is a desperation move. Worley may have been playing well in practice, but that's not why he's starting. He's starting because Simms has been an utter trainwreck the past two weeks. Regardless of the defense you're playing against, you have to make routine passes, and Simms has failed to do that. I guess you could say that Connor Shaw got the start against Kentucky for similar reasons, but it's a bit different in Shaw's case. Shaw started the first game and has been considered a legitimate contender for playing time since he arrived. Not so with Worley, who came into the season third string and was never supposed to play. This is all to say that while Worley may play well, he doesn't exactly come in having had the stellar performances that suggest that he will. I'll leave it at that.
--One key factor coming into this game will be how the USC defense handles the Tennessee running game. Early in the season, the Vols running game was putrid. It actually registered negative rushing yards in its first two SEC games, against Florida and Georgia. Since then, though, it's improved a bit. Tauren Poole is a decent RB and always has been. What's changed is that a talented but very young Vols line has grown up a bit over the course of the season. Granted, "growing up" here means going from awful to not-quite-awful. Moreover, the running game has struggled in the second half in the last couple of games. Whatever the case may be, the Gamecocks should be in good shape if they can shut down UT's running game. I like our chances to tee off on Worley and force him to make some rookie mistakes if we can shut down the run on first and second down. Earlier in the season, the Vols survived poor rushing performances because they had the Tyler Bray-Justin Hunter connection to bail them out. Nos so these days.
--I hate that I have to talk about this, but it's become such an issue of the course of the season that it must be addressed: will the refs call offensive holding this week when the Vols offensive line tries to drag Melvin Ingram / Devin Taylor / Jadeveon Clowney down by the jersey? At this point, you really have to wonder what kind of numbers the guys can put up if they aren't held, since we haven't actually seen that this year. It would certainly be interesting if the refs call a couple early in the game.