Vols work on tackling, 3rd down offense, more

Tennessee's assistant coaches spoke with the media Tuesday to rehash what went wrong during the Arkansas game, how to move forward and more.

Saturday’s loss to Arkansas wasn’t the worst tackling performance defensive coordinator John Jancek has ever seen from his Tennessee team since taking over in 2013. It was close, though.

“It’s the worst in a long time, probably since the first year,” Jancek said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’re just there and guys are lunging, not closing space, not shortening their stride, not putting eyes on thighs. It’s something that you work on every week and they’ve got to go out there and execute it. They’ll get it done.”

The Vols’ defense worked tremendously hard to bring down running back Alex Collins and Arkansas’ pass-catching combo of wide receiver Drew Morgan and tight end Hunter Henry. It just wasn’t always a successful outing.

Sometimes it was bad angles that prevented Tennessee’s defense from making the tackle. Other times it was an offensive player’s ability to squirm out of arm tackles. Whatever the situation, Jancek knows it needs to be fixed before running back Nick Chubb and his Georgia team invade Knoxville Saturday.

The third-year Vols defensive coordinator stresses solid tackling in practice, and to him, the defense did a nice job of wrapping up in its first four games. That will have to pick back up against an aggressive Bulldog offense out to prove it’s not as easily stifled as Alabama made it look last week in a 38-10 win.

“You look at the Oklahoma game and even the Florida game. We’re tackling, we’re getting guys down,” Jancek said. “(Collins) made a couple of nice cuts too, so I’ve got to give him some credit, but our competition is only going to get better and better. We’ve got to keep getting better and better.”

Second half struggles

For the third time in three losses, Tennessee stumbled in the second half to eventually lose a game it led by double digits. The offense only had four possessions in the third and fourth quarters against Arkansas as the Razorbacks racked up a huge time of possession advantage on sustained drives, holding the ball for a little more than 21 minutes in the second half to stunt the rhythm of the offense.

That's been a common theme for Tennessee, which has been outscored 58-51 in the second half this season.

“Really it just came down to not having the ball much and we didn’t execute some things that we need to,“ offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said.

“We’ve adjusted in the second half and had things that have been there. We just haven’t executed as well in the second half as we have in the first. Those are the little things we’re working on right now.”

Third down for what

Georgia’s third down defense, especially when in the nickel, is nearly impenetrable. The Bulldogs are allowing opponents to convert on third down at just a 27.27 percent clip — good for second in the SEC behind Alabama.

UGA is able to get creative with exotic blitz packages when in this position since the defense puts opposing offenses in long third-down conversion scenarios.

“They take a lot of chances because they can,” wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. “They’re bringing stuff that you’ve never even seen that you’re drawing up on grease boards. It’s wild. It’s kind of like ‘Hey, stop us.’ Really nobody has thrown the ball much on them on third down.”

In 77 attempts, opponents have notched a first down on Georgia just 21 times on third down. The key, in Azzanni’s eyes, is allowing his offense to get in manageable third down situations so that Georgia isn’t allowed to pin its ears back and send the kitchen sink.

“If you can stay ahead of schedule, that’s when you’ll be in the fourth quarter with a good defense like this,” he said. “When you get behind schedule, that’s when you have trouble. We’ve got to have some smart things on third down to give our QB a chance, get our wideouts a chance to get open and get them some time, and that’s the only way we can be successful on third down. We’re not going to go out there and be silly."

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