Defensive notebook

With Tennessee's football team limping along at 2-5, Vol fans are experiencing more deja vu than thrills this fall. The games are beginning to look awfully familiar.

One recurring pattern is especially obvious: The Big Orange hangs tough for a half, then collapses in the third and fourth quarters.

To wit:

Game 2 vs. Oregon: Tied 13-13 at the half, the Vols are outscored 35-0 thereafter.

Game 3 vs. Florida: Down 7-3 at the half, the Vols are outscored 24-14 thereafter.

Game 4 vs. UAB: Up 23-7 at the half, the Vols are outscored 16-0 in the second half, forcing the game into overtime.

Game 7 vs. Alabama: Down 13-10 at the half, the Vols are outscored 28-0 thereafter.

Discounting a 50-0 Game 1 blowout of UT Martin from the Football Championship Subdivision, the two exceptions to this pattern were Game 5 at LSU (which saw Tennessee play well for 60 minutes only to bow 16-14) and Game 6 at Georgia (which saw Tennessee collapse in the first half, instead of waiting till the second).

The numbers tell the story: Through seven games the Vols have outscored their opponents 83-74 in the first half, only to be outscored by a whopping 67-132 margin in the second half.

Head coach Derek Dooley believes there was a common thread in the second-half collapses.

"It's been big plays that hurt us," he said.

That's true. Oregon broke open Game 2 with touchdowns on a 72-yard scrimmage run and a 76-yard interception return. Florida broke open Game 3 with a 36-yard run on a fake punt that led to a touchdown and an interception that led to a short-field TD. Bama broke open Game 7 with a 38-yard pass that set up a touchdown, a 65-yard scoring burst and a 36-yard completion to set up another TD.

Every one of those big plays occurred in the third quarter.

Vol linebacker Herman Lathers said Alabama did nothing differently after intermission that would explain its 28-point second-half explosion Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

"I don't think it was very different," he said. "There were just some mistakes here and there on our part. They were able to break some long runs, and that was basically it."

BREWER GETS A SHOT

Since first-team strong safety Prentiss Waggner has scarcely practiced all month due to injuries, Tennessee gave freshman Brent Brewer a lot of playing time vs. Alabama. Brewer, returning to football after four years playing minor league baseball, responded with 6 tackles and a quarterback hurry in his first extensive action of the season.

"We played Brewer a lot when they were in two-tight end sets," Dooley said. "Prentiss hadn't hit in three weeks, so we felt like we need a bigger, more physical safety. He got some good experience. He made some bad mistakes - like a freshman would - but he hadn't played in six years, so that was a big change for him."

First-team cornerback Marsalis Teague suffered a foot injury in the first quarter, forcing Tennessee to rely almost exclusively on Art Evans and Eric Gordon thereafter.

"We had to go with Art and Gordon the whole time, so your nickel package is messed up a little bit," Dooley said. "We just don't have a lot of guys."

REVEIZ ROLL CONTINUES

Senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz recorded 11 tackles Saturday night, giving him five double-digit tackle performance in the Vols' first seven games. He led Tennessee tacklers in each of those five games.

BOOMING THE BALL

Senior punter Chad Cunningham's 56-yard boot in the first quarter was his longest of the season. His game average of 48.2 yards was a season best, as well.

PALARDY CONNECTS

Freshman kicker Michael Palardy made his first collegiate field goal, nailing a clutch 33-yarder on the final play of the half that pulled the Vols within 13-10. He missed a 52-yarder later in the game. Counting a missed 45-yarder at LSU, he now stands 1 of 3 filling in for Daniel Lincoln. Lincoln connected on his first seven field goals of the season before pulling a quad muscle and missing the past three games.


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