KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (school release) -- As it prepares to square off with one of the strongest and most physical teams in the country this Saturday at No. 2 Alabama, Tennessee is looking to the laws of physics to help slow down the bruising Crimson Tide offense which leads the SEC in both rushing yards and points per game.
Knowing that force equals mass times acceleration, UT is expected to make an effort to increase its mass in the defensive backfield by moving Prentiss Waggner back to cornerback and start freshman Brian Randolph at free safety. Combined with strong safety Brent Brewer and Izauea Lanier at the other corner spot, not to mention the linebacking trio of Austin Johnson, A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt, the Vols feel that they will be fielding their biggest and most physical defensive unit.
"I definitely like bigger guys," Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley said. "The two teams dominating our league right now, if you don't have big guys you can't fight them for 60 minutes. Who was our leading tackler against LSU? (A.J. Johnson) Hmm, big guy. Big guys can go against big guys a lot better than little guys. Now, you need your little guys too when they put their little guys in and it becomes a space game.
"Same thing at safety, having big safeties who have to go tackle runners. When you've got those 185-pound safeties, look what happened (to Prentiss Waggner against LSU). He's laying out. What quarter was that, the second quarter? Prentiss, he's 180 pounds and has to go stick his head into a 220-pound running back, eventually physics takes over. F=M*A (force equals mass times acceleration)."
Tennessee knows it will have to get more production out of its safeties in order to counteract the strong Alabama rushing attack, led by Heisman candidate Trent Richardson who is averaging 130.29 yards and over two touchdowns per game.
"The way these guys run the ball and the size of these backs, no doubt that our safeties will have to be down in there close," Tennessee defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said. "I don't think it's a big secret that the guys outside will have to cover and win some one-on-one matchups, especially on third down."
That physical style of play is exactly why the Big Orange could start Randolph for the third time this season. In a similar game last week against top-ranked LSU, the Marietta, Ga., native finished second on the team with a career-high nine tackles.
"I think he is more of a physical type safety, which in the games we are going to play in the next few weeks is probably going to help us out a ton," Joseph said. "I think you saw against LSU, the kid wants to stick his head in there no matter what size the backs are. He is going to get in there this week, start and do a good job for us."
Another player who should benefit from the hard-hitting nature expected in Saturday's game is 215-pound strong safety Brent Brewer.
"I thought (Brent) played well in the last game," Joseph said. "Early in the game he had a tackle-for-loss and got excited about. I thought his confidence, you really saw him play a little bit faster and that's what we're going to want from him."
FRESHMAN RECEIVERS ADAPTING
After losing two of the SEC's top performers on offense in Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter, the maturation process for Tennessee freshman wide receivers DeAnthony Arnett and Vincent Dallas has been expedited greatly.
Arnett has recorded 14 receptions, while Dallas caught his first in the Vols' lone road contest at Florida.
"It is hard," wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. "As well as Da'Rick and Justin did a year ago, they didn't come along as fast as I wanted them to. These guys are coming but the process is not always what you want it. Some come slower and some come faster than others. I am pleased with these two guys but I would like to see them develop a little bit faster.
And I think they will the more they play, they haven't played a whole lot but that is predicated on how well they play in practice and how confident we fell putting them in the game in certain situations. I think we as coaches are feeling more confident as we go along, but it has taken some time."
Not only do both Arnett and Dallas have to learn a bigger playbook than what they were used to in high school, but the college game, especially in the SEC, is much more physical.
"You have to know what to do when you get out there and you have to be strong enough and physical enough to be able to go into certain situations and take a hit or to go in and push off a guy or lean up against a guy to get separation," Baggett said.
Gaining more separation may help the Vols avoid dropped passes.
"Drops are a part of football, but we try to move on from them," Baggett said. "We keep track of them. We have a board that we put our drops on, so we do track them but I just think the best thing to do about drops is forget about them and catch the next one.
"These guys know how many they caught, how many they dropped, and how many they had thrown to them. We use that to motivate."
While the Tennessee-Alabama game holds a heightened sense of importance to everyone involved due to its storied rivalry, defensive line coach Lance Thompson is the only coach from either staff that has been on both sidelines.
"This game is special," Thompson said. "When you've coached on both sides of it, you hear both sides and what they think about the other group. But more than that, it is just the passion that they have for their university and the two teams representing it.
"There has been some bad blood through the years between Tennessee and Alabama and that's part of it, but for the kids and the coaches it is a game where we want to go compete and represent this school in the right way."
Part of representing Tennessee the right way is having his unit prepared mentally.
"We played well in spurts," Thompson said of the defensive line's performance against LSU. "It was a power football game. If we just execute at a high level, be where we are supposed to be and do what we are supposed to do, some things are going to change in that game. I was proud of our effort and I was proud of our toughness. We went after them. The guys played hard, but we didn't play smart all the time."