Oct. 25, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Though he is a Vol for Life, Tennessee running backs coach Jay Graham will return to a familiar place this weekend when UT heads to Columbia for a meeting with No. 17 South Carolina.
Graham spent three years inside the confines of Williams-Brice Stadium from 2009-11 while serving as the running backs and tight ends coach under Steve Spurrier.
He is excited to get back and see the players he coached, especially one he helped recruit to South Carolina, Marcus Lattimore.
"When I went to a game you could see his focus and attention to detail in the way he played," Graham said. "You could see he was going to be a special player, and getting to know him, you can see in his approach to everything on and off the field you knew he had all of the ingredients to be something special."
Graham, who played six seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, came to South Carolina after one-year coaching stints at Chattanooga, San Diego, Tennessee-Martin and Miami (Ohio).
Having the opportunity to establish his coaching career under Steve Spurrier is something that Graham is grateful for.
"It helped me out a lot," Graham said. "The opportunity to be around one of the best coaches in college football, Coach Spurrier and his influence on me was big for me in my career.
"There is so much [about him]. Just the way that he interacts with his players, the way he game plans, his style of coaching. He was a lot different [than I thought]. He is more of a player's coach. Just being around him and the way he goes about his business every day and prepares for the game."
Though he coached on the offensive side of the ball while at South Carolina, Graham knows that his running back corps at Tennessee will have its biggest test of the season facing a South Carolina defensive front that is third in the country with 29 sacks, which ranks behind only Tulsa (35) and Utah State (30) in the entire NCAA.
Graham has been spending this week getting his running backs ready with pad leverage and blocking drills, to go along with their normal weekly routine.
"You are going to get some blitz and those guys do more than just run through a gap and blitz, they know how to shed blockers and get to the quarterback," Graham said. "It is going to be important for us to have your head up and pass protect and finish. It is all about the last two seconds of the play. They strain really hard to get to the quarterback.
"We are getting better. It has been pretty close to sound. We have done a good job, but this week is going to be a big challenge for us. It is the challenge of the technique because the better the player is, the better the technique has to be."
SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVESaturday's SEC showdown in Columbia pits one of the nation's top offensive lines against one of the top defensive lines. The Vols come into the game having allowed just three sacks, the second-fewest in the nation while South Carolina has racked up 29 sacks, the third-most in the country. Tennessee's offensive line coach Sam Pittman is well aware of the challenge at hand, and how South Carolina has been able to dominate the line in its games. "I heard Coach (Lou) Holtz say it on ESPN that nobody has dominated, ever since that group of guys got there, South Carolina on the defensive front," Pittman said. "Obviously it takes more than one guy. There's just not a weakness in there. You wish there was, and then that way you could turn it away from the weak guy and put him man-to-man. They just don't have it. If you want to double climb it, they'll get in a pair of threes and not allow you to double him. They know what they're doing and are really well coached. I have a lot of respect for them and am excited about Saturday." The focal point of the SC defensive line is sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who has 7.5 sacks and 14.0 tackles for loss to rank second in the SEC in both categories. UT's Antonio Richardson will be given the task of trying to shut down the midseason first-team All-American. "He's really fast," Pittman said. "He's big, he's tall and he can move his hips. Some guys that want to club you and can move their hips laterally, Clowney can move his hips laterally and forward. There aren't many people that can do that. Obviously he has great speed so he's going to get you up the field and make you want to come under." Clowney's co-star on the defensive line is senior Devin Taylor, who is also someone Pittman had high praise for. "Well again, Devin is long too," Pittman said. "You have to pick your poison. You can't double both of them. You can chip both of them, which is obviously something that we want to do. You also want to get guys out in a route, so there's a fine line in everything. Bottom line, you don't want your quarterback to get hit, so we're going to do everything we possibly can to have a scheme that will help us keep our quarterback clean." When it comes to the matchup, Pittman points to the statistics that show how well Tennessee's line has performed. "Let's face the facts, three sacks in seven games is pretty good," Pittman said. "I don't care where you are. They've probably exceeded it in that case, but I knew when I came that we had good ball players and again, sometimes you get credit for things you don't deserve. We have good players. If we had bad players, trust me we wouldn't have three sacks."
VOLS READY FOR PLAYGROUND BALLSouth Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw's ability to make plays with his feet definitely has Tennessee's attention as it prepares to square off with the Gamecocks Saturday.
"It is a huge challenge," Tennessee safeties coach Josh Conklin said. "He adds an extra dynamic. You have those pro-style quarterbacks who are sitting back there reading their first read and reading their second read, he is going to read his first read and then if he doesn't see it, he is going to pull it and try to make something on his own."
It isn't just Shaw's ability that makes those "broken" plays so dangerous, however, as every player on the South Carolina offense is taught exactly what to do in those situations.
"Everybody is coached up on their primary route and once that primary route breaks down, now they can go to their secondary [route]," Conklin said. "All of those guys are coached up on where they are going and to what part of the field. Are they going deep? Who is the intermediate guy? Those broken plays are what is scary because he is a definite threat with his feet. We have to make sure that we are all alert to that. The underneath droppers in zone have to make sure that they are driving on the quarterback when he crosses the line of scrimmage and we have to stay back in coverage."
In order to defend against what UT head coach Derek Dooley described as a play within a play earlier this week, the Vols will have to stay disciplined but also be ready to rely on the instincts they developed on the playgrounds of their childhood.
"What you have to be disciplined in is your rules that you match up different patterns," Conklin said. "When they break, the rules are kind of out the door and now you have to lock down, be as deep as the deepest and make sure the quarterback crosses the line of scrimmage before you attack. All of those things become a major factor and it becomes the old school playground ball, `go to the light pole' type-of-speak."
SAULSBERRY'S CHANCESome new faces saw significant playing time in Tennessee's game against No. 1 Alabama, including redshirt freshman Trevarris Saulsberry has moved up the depth chart on the defensive line and saw the most playing time of his short career.
The Gainesville, Fla., native has impressed his position coach, John Palermo.
"I think he's always been a guy that does what you ask him to do," Palermo said of the former Florida All-State selection. "He's never late for meeting, he's never late for practice, he always goes to class. He does all the things; you know it's time to give kids like that the opportunity to see what they can do on the football field."
Saulsberry was anxious to see how he would perform after not playing as a true freshman in 2011. The season didn't start the way he expected, but that didn't discourage him.
"After my redshirt year, I was thinking okay, this is my year," said Saulsberry, who made the first five tackles of his career against the Crimson Tide. "I can come out and start playing. Things didn't go how I planned, so I just sat back, waited, kept practicing hard, kept giving the team looks. I felt like I was ready to step up and take the role on the defense."
In addition to his work ethic on and off the field, Palermo is impressed with Saulsberry's stature.
"He's the body type that you want and he's the future of our defense right now," Palermo said. "If you're playing with 6-5, 296-pound defensive ends that have relatively good movement, then that's how you build a good defense."
RUNNING ROUTESOne of the biggest areas that UT wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw has focused on in preparing for South Carolina is how the Vols run their routes in an effort to get open for the quarterback.
"That is exactly what we have talked about this week from the very beginning, discipline and route running," Hinshaw said. "You have to run everything that we run, you have to understand when to punch and pivot, when to make your cuts, when to flip the DB, all those situations and then be able to go make plays when the ball comes out.
"There are going to be situations where there is going to be pressure on Tyler (Bray) or whoever is at quarterback and we have to sit there and go make plays."
One man Hinshaw has been working with more extensively this week is junior Justin Hunter, who has been limited to just nine catches in the last three games after starting the season with 30 receptions in the first four weeks.
"Justin has been practicing extremely hard and working hard," Hinshaw said. "We work after practice on some of the catching. We have worked on deep balls, we have worked on those situations and just clean up those deep ball catches. Justin has been working hard at it. Justin is special and we have to make those plays."