Defense holds key for Herd, Vols

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 3, 2007

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Okay, so who’s going to knock down the other guy’s brick wall?

Defenses will be the key Saturday when Tennessee, 2-1 and ranked 15th in the national, hosts the Marshall Thundering Herd in only the second meeting between the two teams.

The Herd (1-2) struggled offensively last week in the 23-7 loss at Kansas State with just 142 total yards. Snyder said the offense faces a tougher challenge against the Vols defense.

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“They’ve got some athletic guys in there, but the key is up front. Their defensive front is outstanding,” Herd coach Mark Snyder said.

“Their front concerns me more right now. I’m not taking anything away from their linebackers because they’re athletic and fast, but I’m more worried about their front four. They are very good.”

Marshall’s defense will focus on Vols quarterback Erik Ainge who is 52 of 79 passing on the season for 807 yards and seven touchdowns. He has been intercepted four times.

Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain are the two main targets. Meachem has 17 grabs for 344 yards and four TDs while Swain has been on the receiving end 14 times for 216 yards and two scores.

No other receiver has more than five catches.

Montario Hardesty leads Tennessee in rushing with 142yards on 41 carries and he has scored three touchdowns. Arian Foster had 93 yards on 26 attempts.

If Marshall is hoping to catch the Volunteers flat after they lost at home to Florida last week, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer doesn’t sound as if his team is vulnerable to an upset.

“I tell you what, we had one heck of a good practice (Thursday),” Fulmer said. “This is about commitment to each other, about physical toughness, mental toughness, about continuing improvement.”

Tennessee has been able to score, but the Volunteers defense holds the key.

Linebacker Marvin Mitchell leads the team with 34 tackles and linebacker Jerod May had four sacks for losses totaling 32 yards.

Ahmad Bradshaw tops the Herd in rushing with 292 yards on 44 carries.

Herd quarterback Bernie Morris is 48 of 77 for 413 yards. He has three TDs and three interceptions.

Emmanuel Spann has 15 receptions for 126 yards and one score.

So far this season, the Vols outscored California 35-18 and Air Force 31-30 before giving their best defensive effort in the 21-20 loss to Florida.

The two teams only meeting came in 2003 with Tennessee holding off Marshall 34-24 before 106,520 fans, the largest crowd to ever see the Herd play.

Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.