FOOTBALL: Vols "D" seeks redemption

When defensive coordinator John Chavis failed to show for Tuesday's media day, a team spokesman said the Vol aide was sick. Considering how poorly Chavis' troops played last Saturday at Vanderbilt, who wouldn't be?

The Tennessee defense that shut down Georgia (265 total yards), Ole Miss (257), Alabama (218) and Notre Dame (216) was a no-show. In its place was a group of imposters who allowed the offensively challenged Commodores to pile up a season-high 420 total yards and 33 points. They also made Vandy quarterback Jay Cutler (314 passing yards and three touchdowns) look like a first-team All-American.

Embarrassed by that performance, Vol defenders are mad ... so mad they're looking to redeem themselves this Saturday against Kentucky.

''They should be POed,'' head coach Phil Fulmer said. ''And I think they are. They should be POed Saturday, too, not just during the week.''

The head man is unable to explain the slipshod defensive performance against Vandy, whose previously unproductive attack was further limited by the absence of ace receiver Eric Davis last Saturday.

Fulmer said the defense had a ''pretty good week of practice'' leading up to the game. However, he added that the staff may have focused too much attention on stopping the Commodores' option series.

''And Vanderbilt found a scheme that bothered us,'' the Vol boss said. ''They had two plays for 142 yards (an 80-yard pass to Brandon Smith and a 62-yarder to Marlon White) and neither one of them should've gained more than eight.''

No one was more embarrassed by last Saturday's defensive ineptitude than senior linebacker/captain Kevin Burnett. He promises improvement this weekend.

''It's really just mental,'' he said. ''Mentally, being in the right position ... that's the only thing we need to improve on. We played hard. We executed 80 percent of the time.''

That other 20 percent of the time, however, the Vols were pathetic. They're determined to purge that memory Saturday against the Wildcats.

''We definitely have something to prove,'' Burnett said. ''We're either going to continue to give up points or we're going to go out there and play good stout defense.''

If they do the latter, Chavis should start feeling better real soon.

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