Mid-Season Report Card: Tennessee Volunteers Defense
Tennessee (3-3, 0-3 SEC)
Despite the injury woes, dreadful lack of a running game and a special teams unit that can oftentimes leave you shaking your head, the Tennessee defense has given the Vol faithful hope in an otherwise bleak outlook on Rocky Top.
After dealing early on with alignment issues and being largely ineffective against the short passing game against Florida, the UT linebackers have looked like the real deal in 6 games. In the SEC, we expect a defense to step up against jaw dropping speed and bone crunching physicality. Tennessee has delivered more often than not but faces an offense this week which eats better team’s defensive hopes for breakfast.
Freshmen AJ Johnson and Curt Maggitt have played the majority of the clicks this season and have developed quickly into their roles on the line. Despite the pre-season loss of Herman Lathers, senior, Austin Johnson has made a tremendous impact and the freshmen have been allowed opportunities to gain valuable experience.
Let’s recap some memorable defensive moments from Games One-Six:
Montana: UT’s defensive line gave up just 3.7 yards per carry against the Grizzlies and looked disciplined against the spread. However this was the opening day cupcake game that it was expected to be and there were no offensive challenges to overcome that afternoon in Neyland.
Cincinnati: Cincy’s first TD came after LB Daryl Vereen missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage however the Vols defense then stopped Cincinnati twice on 4th down while keeping pressure on the QB for the remainder of the game. In their first true test of the season, the Vols came away with the W and a lot to prove down the road.
Florida: The Vols were unable to stop the running or the passing game against the Gators in Gainesville. In a defensive roller coaster for Tennessee, the Vols gave up back to back TD drives, one being a 99 yarder, but then recovered a fumble and caused a punt. One quarter later, they allowed a 50 yard drive which came up a FG and then a punt. They were able to bow up in the 2nd quarter, allowing just 27 yards on 4 drives, 3 of which starting in Vol territory.
Buffalo: Tennessee held the visiting Bulls to a mere 264 yards. They also doubled their sack total on the year against Buffalo. This victory came easily on both sides of the ball in a game the Vols needed at that point in the schedule.
Georgia: A defensive stand in the 1st Half saw the score tied 6-6 at the half. However, in a recurring theme over this game and the next, the solid hard hitting defense returned to the field in the 2nd Half tired and unprepared for the opposing offensive adjustments.
LSU: Tigers’ running back, Spencer Ware was ineffective for much of the first half against the Volunteer defense and Tennessee played an unforeseen game to start that only wore down to nothing in the 2nd. The LSU run game made the changes it needed at halftime and the Vols had no answer. UT did force LSU into 6 3rd downs in the 2nd but the Tigers unfortunately were able to convert on 5 of them. The offense had not allowed the defense the time necessary on the sidelines to rest and it was evident.
Defensive MVP: S Prentiss Waggner
Moved from cornerback , a position where he thrived, to safety after the dismissal of Janzen Jackson, he has surprisingly shown the ability to move with agility while covering ground quickly. He began putting up the numbers and playing with the physicality that has been expected from him all season against Georgia. Alabama will prove to be the ultimate test however.
Stats through the LSU game:
Pass Breakups: 5
+ 3 hurries and a forced fumble
The final 6 games start with a bang in Tuscaloosa and then taper off to finish in Lexington but challenges are still evident for this young defensive unit. The learning curve for any team in the SEC is exponential, for this Tennessee defense, they must learn to finish out 4 full quarters of football while forcing turnovers and creating plays that put points on the board. In light of the injuries on the offensive side of the ball, and if there are to be significant improvements for the team as a whole, the defense must shoulder a heavy burden moving forward in the schedule.
Defensive Grade: C+