Will defense 'stand' tall again?

It wasn't as dramatic as the offense's Hail Mary touchdown play on the final play of the first half, but the stand Tennessee's defense made after Florida recovered a Jabari Davis fumble in the final minutes of last Saturday's game in Gainesville was just as big.

Leading 24-10 with two minutes left, Tennessee needed only to kill some clock, then punt the ball back to Florida. But Davis fumbled a pitch, and the Gators recovered at the Vol 13-yard line with 1:54 remaining. A quick TD and an onsides kick would put UT in serious peril of blowing the game.

Fortunately, Vol defenders came through in the clutch, forcing incomplete passes on first, third and fourth downs to seal the victory.

So, what did the Vols gain from that experience which might help them this weekend vs. South Carolina?

''I don't know if you gain anything except maybe some gray hairs,'' Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis said with a laugh. ''That was the biggest thing I gained.''

Turning serious, the coordinator conceded that the late stand at Gainesville was a defining moment for his troops.

''In situations like that, you've got to get them stopped, and our guys did a tremendous job,'' Chavis said. ''We were a little more tired than I hoped we'd be. We probably played some guys too many plays. I had two linebackers who played over 60 snaps. That's a few more than I'd like for them to; I didn't do a good enough job substituting for them. We didn't play quite as well in the fourth quarter but, even after not playing well, it was great to get that stop at the end. It says a lot for them because they sucked it up when they had to.''

Chavis hopes the Vols can rise to the occasion again this weekend against the Gamecocks. Though lacking Florida's explosiveness, Carolina piled up points in a 31-7 upset of No. 15 Virginia earlier this year. Even in a 31-7 loss to Georgia, the Cocks kept the first-down markers moving.

''They moved the ball up and down the field on Georgia, had a couple of touchdowns called back,'' Chavis noted. ''They didn't score a lot of points but moved the ball up and down the field, had about 355 yards of total offense. You put on the film, and it doesn't take you long to realize they're a very good football team.''


Inside Tennessee Top Stories