The Volunteers rank in at No. 99 nationally in total defense (allowing 453.4 yards per game) as the transition to a 3-4 scheme has come with more than a few growing pains.
"There are more factors (to hiring Sal Sunseri) than just the scheme," coach Derek Dooley said. "I think there were going to be growing pains no matter who you brought in because it is new, even if we went with a 4-3. (There would) probably be a lot less growing pains if you kept it a real simple system. Would we be playing better? Probably so. There were some other factors that went into it, as far as being in this league, understanding the league, having a belief in what we are doing and how we are doing it. Team staff unity and loyalty.
"You always make decisions based on what happened last and you try to correct what happened last to make sure the same mistakes doesn't happen. When you usually do, you are presented with some new things that you didn't anticipate or hope would be there."
When coaches aren't getting the results they want, they have to make changes — regardless of class or experience. With that in mind, it's possible that fifth-year cornerback Prentiss Waggner and year-long starting safety Byron Moore will be out of the starting lineup come noon Saturday. Replacing Waggner would be freshman Daniel Gray and spelling Moore would be fifth-year safety Rod Wilks.
"Well, he's an experienced guy," safeties coach Josh Conklin said of Wilks. "I think maybe Rod is a little bit disappointed how this season has gone for him and not taking as many reps as he thinks. But, he's gotten better every week. So, when you talk about the experience, he has game reps, and he really has been a light on our defense. I've been really proud of Rod as far as how he's approached it the last three weeks."
LaDarrell McNeil played over 70 snaps last week in Columbia, and putting a fifth-year player next to him should help lighten the mental load.
On the brighter side of things, the Tennessee defense has stepped up in many instances to get stops late in contests. It allowed just seven points over the final two quarters against both North Carolina State and Georgia State, while also holding Akron to a field goal.
In Georgia, the Bulldogs were goose egged in the final period. Mississippi State had but 14 points in the second half. South Carolina tallied merely 10 points late.
With those numbers in mind, it's apparent the Big Orange have it in them to get stops. They simply have to apply that over 60 minutes.
Hear from the Vol assistant coaches following Wednesday's practice in the videos below: