Better late than never

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After allowing Georgia 538 yards and 51 points in the first three quarters last Saturday, Tennessee's defense allowed just 22 yards and zero points in the fourth quarter.

So, which defense will show up in Game 6 against Mississippi State: (A) The one that was awful for 45 minutes or (B) the one that was awesome for 15 minutes?

Not surprisingly, the Vols insist the answer is (B), which is why they are supremely confident they will bounce back with a strong defensive effort Oct. 13 in Starkville. Their strong fourth-quarter showing against the fifth-ranked Dawgs couldn't salvage a win but it salvaged their self-esteem.

"I think our confidence level is great," senior linebacker Herman Lathers said following Tuesday's practice. "They (coaches) showed us the good plays on film, and the plays we gave up were the same plays we did good later in the game. It was just alignment errors by us. We've just got to correct those, come out and play strong."

Sophomore linebacker A.J. Johnson echoed those thoughts, noting: "We stopped 'em good on base calls, then on the same calls we messed up and had the wrong fits and they broke the long ones."

The Bulldogs broke some long ones, all right. Keith Marshall scored on runs of 75 and 72 yards; teammate Todd Gurley added a 51-yard touchdown burst.

"They're real good running backs," Lathers said. "When you give great players gaps like that they're going to get it downhill fast and get into the secondary. We can't allow that to happen."

After being gashed for three quarters, however, Tennessee held Georgia to three three-and-outs and one four-and-out in the final quarter. That worked wonders for the Vols' confidence.

"It helped a lot," Lathers said. "We feel like it wasn't too much what Georgia did (that led to 51 Bulldog points) but what we did. Give credit to Georgia because they got us on our heels. But once we began playing our style of football, got aligned right and played physical, we showed we're able to play with anybody in the country."

Tennessee senior Herman Lathers suggests the defense's issues aren't speed or talent, but correctable alignment problems.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
Johnson agreed that the defense's psyche is intact, despite the pounding it took during the first three quarters of the Georgia game.

"I wouldn't say we're down or nothing as a defense," he said. "We just know we made mistakes as a defense that we could've avoided, so we're out here trying to get better."

Sophomore cornerback Justin Coleman believes the real Tennessee defense showed up in the fourth quarter.

"It basically showed that we have the people. We have the defense. We have the right calls," he said. "We can be a better defense. We can stop any team from scoring; that's what it shows. The fourth quarter showed we had a lot of effort and really wanted to win the game."

The obvious question: What was the difference between the fourth quarter and the first three?

"It was really tackling," Coleman said. "We had to get the running backs on the ground, the receivers on the ground and the quarterback on the ground. Basically, it was playing the right technique and keeping the edge of the defense — safeties coming down and keeping the edge, corners keeping the edge."

Some observers are suggesting that the Vols' defensive woes versus Georgia resulted from a lack of familiarity with the new 3-4 scheme. Lathers says that is not the case at all.

"No," he said. "The problem is just alignments when we're playing the gap (4-3) scheme. The 3-4 is more like man on man. We're playing the 3-4 real well. We played it real well against Georgia ... actually better than we played gap scheme. We've just got to align well and play well."

Lathers says most of the big plays Tennessee surrendered against Georgia occurred while the Vols were playing 4-man fronts.

"Yes, against our gap scheme," he said. "We were getting outflanked."

Because Marshall and Gurley ran by Vol defenders with relative ease for three quarters, some observers question the speed of Tennessee's linebackers and defensive backs. Lathers dismisses that notion, as well.

"I think the speed is fine," he said. "We get outflanked sometimes, and it may seem that way, but we just lose leverage and pursuit angles are bad. We're working on leverage and pursuit angles all week. We're looking forward to what we do this week carrying over to next week."

Coleman is looking forward to next week, also. He was encouraged by the fourth-quarter play of Tennessee's defense against Georgia.

"It really boosts my confidence," he said. "I've got a lot of confidence in the team, players, coaches. I feel like as long as we keep doing better we're going to get a lot of wins."

See what else Coleman had to say following Tuesday's practice on The Hill in the video below:


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