Arguably Cincinnati's best player, Isaiah Pead relies upon a batch of first-year starters. Similarly Tennessee is led by a stellar back, Tauren Poole.
"I have more to prove," said Tauren Poole. "I will showcase my talents the best I can along with the superstars."
Poole causes damage between the tackles while Pead likes to get around the edge.
Pead ranks first amongst active BIG EAST rushers in rushing yards (2,116) and touchdowns (20). As great as the senior has become his performance hinges on a few unproven, though promising Bearcats.
From left to right, Alex Hoffman, Randy Martinez, Evan Davis, Austen Bujnoch, and Sean Hooey provide the run blocking. Together they are the powerful obstacles separating Pead from a three yard loss and a 40-yard game-opening touchdown.
Starting to matter
Hoffman gets his 27th career start Saturday, but earned his credibility elsewhere along the line. In the spring OL Coach Don Mahoney slid Hoffman over to left tackle and bumped Sean Hooey to right tackle.
"About halfway through spring ball they had me at left," said Hooey. "Because that is where I have been practicing since I have been here except the couple of weeks I filled in at right last year. They switched me to right, from what they told me is because they didn't want Hoffman at left because of his shoulder last year."
This spring Hoffman's shoulders were feeling great.
"I always wanted to play left," said Hooey. "That is where I played behind Jeff Linkenbach. I always looked up to him. I still talk to him. That is where I still feel most comfortable. I am not going to fight any position they put me in. I just accepted it and went with it. As long as I am on the field I am going to be happy."
Cincinnati offensive linemen average 8 starts. Without Alex Hoffman's 26 starts of experience the average experience would be 4.5 games. Bujnoch's recent vault up the depth chart accompanied Evan Davis' reclamation of the center spot.
OL Coach Don Mahoney hopes for a strong performance from his charges against former 5-star defensive end Ben Martin.
Martin suffered an achilles injury two years back, another in the winter, yet still managed to start the opener against Montana.
Martin's fellow D-line threat Malik Jackson led the Volunteers with 11.0 TFL's in 2010. He can certainly be a nuisance. Just ask blockers for South Carolina, Memphis, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt. Jackson closed out SEC play with a 4-game sack streak.
UC must thwart the efforts of this terror.
"Last year we were kinda looked at as a weak spot on the team," said Sean Hooey. "And I don't think we should be looked at like that at all. We should be one of the strongest positions on the team. I think this year we are going to prove that."
"Our goals are to not let any of the seniors down and have a solid season."
Oh my, what an O-line
Tennessee's pass protectors are the biggest to face UC in about 20 months. Only Connecticut rushes out similarly sizable blockers. QB Tyler Bray's five linemen average 315 pounds thanks to 330-pound right guard Zach Fulton.
Like Cincinnati the Vols do have a relatively inexperienced blocking unit. Last season UT allowed 41 sacks.
LT Dallas Thomas = 14
RT James = 14
G Fulton = 6
C Stone = 9
G Bullard = 1
The least-experienced lineman at Tennessee, Alex Bullard, began his career at Notre Dame. Following his father's passing Bullard elected to move back closer to home. His father, Louis actually made it to the NFL, playing three seasons for the Seattle Seahawks.
Bullard has done well to assimilate to the Volunteer Power-I. Anchoring the UT O-line is junior Dallas Thomas. Saturday afternoon Thomas will get his 15th career start in his 28th college football game.
Thomas represented Tennessee at SEC Media Day and has been called upon by Head Coach Derek Dooley to assume a leadership role in 2011.
Minutia of note
Tennessee's pass defense crumbled in November-December. In spite of their strong finish (4-1) UT allowed opponents to bombard them with the pass. For the last five games UT yielded over 8.0 yards per pass.
Even Montana managed 6.2 yards per pass last week. If Collaros gets in a groove the scoreboard numbers should flip like a cheerleader.
Playing at home, as the favorite, UT has not lost in seven games. A 2009 Auburn squad downed Tennessee almost two years ago. Since every team entering Knoxville the underdog left with an "L." Victims include South Carolina, Kentucky (2), Ole Miss, UAB, UT-Martin, and Montana.
Nine times last season the UT-game loser scored between 10-17 points. To be clearer someone needs three touchdowns tomorrow. Or else.
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