Corey Vereen isn't a loud guy, so it's fitting that he silenced Bryant-Denny Stadium on multiple occasions Saturday as his team tangled with the Crimson Tide. The junior defensive lineman turned in the best game of his Tennessee career, finishing with two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and five total tackles in a 19-14 loss to then-No. 8 Alabama.
"Corey really came off the football. He showed great explosiveness off the ball," coach Butch Jones said. "The thing that I liked about him is he worked an edge of the defender. He was able to reduce his surface, and he played with a relentless approach that we've come to know him to play with. One sack, I thought, was an effort sack. He did a great job of running the quarterback down and not giving up."
The Vols needed a strong performance from their D-line to have a shot at upending Nick Saban's squad, who entered the game with an eight-game win streak over Tennessee. While Vereen's performance wouldn't be enough to take down the Tide, it did assist in sacking Alabama's quarterback five times — the most of any other opponent since Oklahoma turned in a seven-sack performance against the Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
"I thought that was one of the storylines that really put us in the position to win the football game at Alabama," Jones said. "We had 10 tackles for loss, we were able to impact the quarterback with five sacks and that's very, very important and really, defensively speaking, stay ahead of the chains and create third and long opportunites ... I thought they used their hands very well and I thought they had a relentless approach to impact the quarterback. I thought we leveraged the football better."
Vereen's big day was amplified by who he faced off against. The 6-foot-2, 242-pounder was tasked with beating Freshman All-American Cam Robinson, who surrendered just three sacks in 861 snaps last season.
"Corey always works hard. He never says anything," defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "He just comes to work every day. He's not a real talkative guy. He just gets his work in on the field and that's really it. I'm really happy for him because he does work hard daily ... For him to play well against Alabama and Cam Robinson, it was really great to see."
The entire defensive line produced one of its most effective days of the season against the Crimson Tide and hope to build off that performance Saturday against a Kentucky offensive front that has relinquished 20 sacks on the season already. The Vols' D-line was supposed to be one of its biggest strengths coming into this season but has struggled to gain traction, recording just 14 sacks on the season through seven games.
The coaching staff is hoping the confidence the unit gained against an experienced Alabama front will translate into more production heading into the final five games of the season.
"I thought our defensive line really complemeneted themselves," Jones said. "We were able to generate pressure with a four-man push at times. I thought Corey's effort, his get-off and his relentless approach to impact the quarterback showed."
Vereen will surely be a key factor in the success of the defensive line moving forward, but can he continue to play at the high level he showed against Alabama?
"I hope so," Jancek said with a smile. "That's the goal. We don't want him to get worse, that's for sure."