Coach Fulmer will be seeking his 75th win at Neyland Stadium Saturday in Tennessee’s homecoming game against Marshall.
The Vols, coming off a heartbreaking loss against Florida last week in the conference opener, are playing their third non-conference opponent in four games. This game will mark the second meeting between the two schools, with the only meeting so far being a win for Tennessee 34-24 in Knoxville in 2003.
The Tennessee defense has had trouble defending the option attack in the past two games, and they will have to defend it again against the Thundering Herd. With Tennessee’s thin defensive front, it will be crucial for the linebackers to stop the run.
Depth has been a major issue for the Vols this year. In the fourth quarter this season, they have been outscored 35-10. The biggest question for the Vols has been the defensive front, where someone will have to fill in for injured Justin Harrell, but Fulmer says that seems to be changing.
“Ever since the injury to Justin, there has been a sense of urgency among the other defensive linemen to step up that was not there last spring,” Fulmer said. “Sometimes these guys just need a chance to prove themselves, but we can’t afford too many more injuries.”
Tennessee will need the defensive line to play well against Marshall’s featured tailback Ahmad Bradshaw, who has rushed for 277 yards and four touchdowns in the previous three games. Bradshaw was listed as a Conference USA Player of the Year Candidate prior to this season.
Marshall’s trip in 2003 saw the Tennessee secondary implode as wide receivers Darius Watts and Josh Davis shredded the Vols for 100 yards receiving each. The Vols’ secondary will have to take the Herd’s passing attack so it can stampede Bradshaw into the ground.
In the secondary, Antwan Stewart will move to cornerback for the rest of the season to replace Inky Johnson. Jonathan Wade will remain at cornerback on the other side.
On offense, there are other problems to work out besides injuries. Although Arian Foster is still hurt, the Vols are still deep at running back with Monterio Hardesty and LaMarcus Coker, both of whom Fulmer said should get a lot more playing time Saturday. Hardesty, who struggled last week, will probably see the most action on Saturday.
“We need to focus on getting our rushing attack back up, because here at The University of Tennessee we have always been a good rushing team,” Hardesty said.
The struggles resulted in minus 11 yards rushing for Tennessee. Despite last week, offensive coordinator, David Cutcliffe said that he would continue to try to establish the running game in the offense.
“Balance is what we are committed to,” Cutcliffe said. “You look at any offense and you can see that balance helps you.”
Eric Ainge and the receivers have obviously found their rhythm so far this season. Ainge has already thrown seven touchdown passes, two more than he had all of last season. But against Florida he struggled to find consistency and threw two interceptions behind a shaky offensive line.
“We did not win the physical battle on Saturday, and (they) have to take that as a challenge,” Cutcliffe said.
Fulmer added to Cutcliffe’s comments by saying, “Our quarterback responded to us well and our receivers responded to us well, but on Saturday our offensive line did not respond well.”
Austin Rogers, who was injured against Florida, is listed as day-to-day. If he cannot play this week, then either Jonathan Hefney or Lucas Taylor will take his spot as punt returner.
Tennessee looks to rebound from the dissapointing running efforts by sewing up their problems with the running game. The Vols will have win the ground game on both sides of the ball to corral the Herd.