Vols' Passing Game Now Explosive

ATHENS – Former Tennessee receiver Cedrick Wilson returned to campus this offseason with a message for the Volunteers current wide receivers.

In summation: "What the (heck) is wrong with you guys?"

"There were a lot of things that were said that needed to be said," said senior Jayson Swain. "He really woke us up and let us know that our play wasn't acceptable. Really it kind of hurt my feelings a little bit, but I took something from it and took it as motivation."

It worked so well that Georgia coach Mark Richt might want to hire Wilson to light a fire under his perpetually underachieving wide receivers. The No. 13 Volunteers (4-1, 0-1 SEC) take on the No. 10 Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0) Saturday at 7:45 p.m. in Sanford Stadium.

Swain and junior Robert Meachem are the nation's top receiving duo, having combined for 955 yards and 10 touchdowns through five games. Meachem's 115.4 receiving yards per game rank third in the country. That's a big comfort to the likes of Wilson, Donte Stallworth, Peerless Price, Carl Pickens and Willie Gault, players who have come to consider Tennessee a wide receiver factory.

Finishing ninth in the SEC and 85th in the country last year in passing offense didn't cut it for those guys. Swain and Meachem combined for just 763 yards in 11 games last year. This season has been a complete reversal. Peyton Manning's senior season, 1997, is the last time the Volunteers got comparable production from their receiving game. Tennessee has averaged 163.2 more passing yards than rushing yards this season (296.2 to 133).

Last week, the normally run-first Vols went so far as to implement a five-wide receiver, spread offense that rolled up 566 yards and 41 points against Memphis.

"Any offense that knows what they're doing is going to play to their strength," Swain said. "Fortunately, the receivers have been playing good. We just have to continue to do that."

The emergence of Tennessee's receivers has been aided by, and has aided, the development of quarterback Erik Ainge. Now a junior, Ainge seems to have shaken off an awful 2005 spent sharing time with Rick Clausen. He leads the SEC in passing (277.8 yard per game).

"Anytime you've got two guys that demand as much attention as Swain and Meachem do, that takes pressure off everybody else," Ainge said. "They bring kind of an exciting aspect to this football team."

"Erik knows what he's doing," Swain said, "and that makes all the difference."

Bret Smith and tight end Chris Brown also have double-digit catches for Tennessee. The Volunteers lead the conference and are ninth in the nation in passing offense, and there's still room for improvement, Swain said.

"We're just on level one," he said. "We're still doing the basic things right now. There are still plays to be made out there, still goals to be reached. We'll continue to keep working."

Tennessee's statistics

(national rankings)

Rushing 65th 133.4 ypg

Rushing defense 63rd 126.8 ypg allowed

Passing 9th 296.2 ypg

Passing defense 22nd 157.4 ypg allowed

Scoring 24th 32 ppg

Scoring defense 35th 16.6 ypg allowed

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