Originally created 09/26/03

Strategy centers on rush



COLUMBIA - Tennessee's strategy last week was to put the pressure on Florida's unproven quarterbacks by stuffing the run.

Florida's unproven quarterbacks didn't prove much, and the No. 8 Volunteers won 24-10.

Now comes another quarterback wearing the unproven label - South Carolina's Dondrial Pinkins. Wonder what Tennessee's approach will be Saturday (7:45 p.m., ESPN)?

"They want to make you throw the ball," Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz said. "They want to make you throw it and want to make you one-dimensional. And they want to take away the running game and force you to throw it and then come after you with the different blitzes and use their speed in the secondary and get turnovers and run you out of the stadium."

In other words, South Carolina could be in trouble without a semblance of a running game. And mounting any kind of ground threat has been difficult this season against the Vols, who rank sixth nationally and first in the Southeastern Conference in rushing defense.

Tennessee is giving up just 53.3 rushing yards per game and 2.0 yards per carry.

"If we can't run the football, we don't have a chance," Holtz said. "I don't mean running up and down the field, but we have to have some degree of success running the football. That's an absolute necessity."

The good news is the Gamecocks have put up some encouraging rushing numbers this season. They pushed Virginia around in amassing 261 yards on the ground, and they put up 214 in last week's 42-10 win over Alabama-Birmingham.

The bad news?

"This is no UAB," said Holtz, whose team is third in the SEC and 31st nationally with 181 rushing yards per game.

Indeed, the Vols seem capable of shutting down the Gamecocks' running game - let alone everyone else's. They held Fresno State to minus-1 yard on 24 carries in the season opener, and they gave up 88 to Marshall before limiting Florida to 73 on 27 carries.

The strength of the Vols' defense is their corps of fast, active linebackers. Starters Kevin Simon, Kevin Burnett and Robert Peace are 1-2-3 in the team's tackling statistics, and the three have combined for nine tackles for loss.

"We've been pretty good in run defense for a while," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. "It's just something that we've made a commitment to doing. I don't know if there's one key ingredient. We've got some pretty good linebackers that are guys who can run, and we get a decent pressure package out of it."

Tennessee's linebackers will have their eyes on freshman tailback Demetris Summers on Saturday. One of the Gamecocks' most decorated signees ever, Summers rushed for 161 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries last week.

For Summers, who had 110 yards on eight carries after one quarter, it was a breakout game. The Vols will be trying to break him in Saturday.

"Demetris is going to be a marked person up there, and he's going to have to fight for every yard he gets," Holtz said. "(After) a 3-yard gain, if they get up and do a victory celebration dance in the huddle, you'll understand why."

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645 or larry.williams@augustachronicle.com.