Defensive notebook

Tennessee defenders seemed to be playing pinball instead of football Saturday vs. UAB. Instead of wrapping up Blazer ball-carriers, the Vols routinely bounced off of them, much as a pinball bounces off a bumper.

The result was perhaps the worst exhibition of tackling on The Hill since 1988, when a defensively challenged Vol squad started 0-6. This helped a two-touchdown underdog UAB team to roll up 544 yards of total offense before losing 32-29 in two overtimes.

Afterward, Vol head coach Derek Dooley quipped that the tackling woes might affect this week's practice plans.

"We probably should just not practice plays and just tackle," he deadpanned.

The problem is this: With Tennessee already thin at a number of positions, full-speed tackling in practice can thin the ranks further due to injury.

"The challenge is, we're getting banged up and fatigued, so this is where you really struggle," Dooley said. "We've got to keep hitting 'em to get tougher, then the next thing you know you don't have a team left.

"This is where it gets tough: Trying to figure out how to get better at tackling and hitting and all of the physical things you have to do to win a game, and still be able to field a team."

Ultimately, the Vols may be forced to make their workouts less physical instead of more physical.

"In 15 years of coaching I've never had to modify our practice schedule because of our numbers," Dooley said, "but we're about to run an NFL-type (limited contact) practice."

OVERWORKED SAFETIES

Strong safety Prentiss Waggner made the defensive play of the game vs. UAB, stepping in front of a quick out to intercept a Bryan Ellis pass, then returning it nine yards for a touchdown that padded Tennessee's lead to 23-7 just before halftime.

"Prentiss has been solid. He really has," Dooley said. "But he and Janzen (free safety Janzen Jackson) have about 6,000 snaps already this season, so I'm worried about them holding up."

Tennessee's defense was on the field for a whopping 92 snaps Saturday, with Waggner and Jackson playing virtually all of those.

TOUGH DAY FOR CORNERS

Tennessee failed to register a sack Saturday but the front seven did manage to put some pressure - and some wicked licks - on UAB quarterbacks throughout the game.

As a result, much of the blame for the Blazers' 429 passing yards falls on Vol cornerbacks. First-teamer Art Evans was sidelined, forcing Tennessee to rely heavily on Marsalis Teague, Eric Gordon and Anthony Anderson. None performed particularly well.

"We didn't play very well at corner today," Dooley said. "We really struggled. We're sitting there in cover 2 and they're running mesh routes. We ought to be blowing 'em up and they're getting 15 to 20 yards on 'em. We've got to correct a lot of things in coverage."

OPERATING IN THE RED

Ultimately, Saturday's outcome hinged on two related items:

1. Tennessee's ability to stop UAB in the red zone.

2. UAB's inability to make field goals.

The Blazers advanced to Tennessee's 23-yard line on their opening possession but came away empty when Josh Zahn missed a 41-yard field goal. UAB completed a 52-yard touchdown pass on its second possession but got no points out of a subsequent advance to the Vol 16-yard line when Zahn missed a 35-yard field goal.

UAB marched to the Vol 27-yard line late in the half but stalled and Zahn missed a 49-yard kick. The visitors scored a touchdown on their second possession of the second half but came away with nothing after driving to the Vol 13-yard line on their third ... Zahn missing a 30-yard field goal.

After scoring a touchdown on its second possession of the fourth quarter, UAB advanced to the UT 36-yard line on its final possession of regulation, only to see Zahn misfire on a 54-yard field-goal try. The Blazers then settled for field goals of 35 and 21 yards on their two overtime possessions.

Ultimately, UAB had the ball inside Tennessee's 30-yard line eight times but came away with just two touchdowns and two field goals.

"That's improvement," Dooley noted. "Prior to this game if you got to the 20-yard line it was a guaranteed seven (points) on us, so that was good. We held 'em to field goals. Then the field goal gods kept pushing the ball around for us."

Had Zahn made the five field goals he missed, UAB would've scored 38 regulation points instead of 23.

"We had a lot of luck," Dooley conceded. "Their kicker really helped us."


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