Vol defense needs help

Defense rests ... That pretty much was the story of Tennessee's 10-6 upset of Miami last weekend. While the Vol offense was controlling the ball for most of the first half, Tennessee's stop troops were cooling their heels on the sidelines.

''Our offense kept the football, and we didn't have to play a lot the first half,'' defensive coordinator John Chavis said. ''You'd like for every game to be that way. If we only had to play nine minutes per half (as happened in the first half vs. Miami), I dare say most people wouldn't score a lot. They might score a little but they wouldn't score a lot.''

Ultimately, Chavis credited the impressive outing vs. the Hurricanes to ''a lot of things,'' including added maturity for some key Vol defenders.

The biggest factor, though, was that the UT attack carried its share of the load ... and then some. In addition to controlling the ball for 21 minutes of the first half, the Vol offense kept the ball for the game's last five minutes, thanks to a fumbled punt that cost Miami its final possession.

''Really,'' Chavis said, ''it was a game that started and finished the way we wanted it to finish.''

Translation: With UT's defense on the sidelines.

While this weekend's foe, Mississippi State (2-7 overall, 1-5 SEC), lacks the overall talent Miami had, the Bulldogs have one advantage over the Hurricanes. Whereas Miami's top receiving threat was tight end Kellen Winslow, MSU has a bona fide deep threat in wide receiver Justin Jenkins. He ranks first among SEC players in receiving yards (770), second in receptions (52) and second in receiving touchdowns (8). He's made more effective by the fact the Bulldogs have Ray Ray Bivines (24 catches for 308 yards) on the other side.

''They've got two receivers (Jenkins and Bivines) who are big-time receivers,'' Chavis said.

Although Mississippi State's offense ranks dead last in the SEC statistically, the Vol coordinator says the Bulldogs have some top-notch weapons.

''When they've only won two ballgames, you look at me and wonder when I talk about them being really good on offense,'' Chavis said. ''They've got two tailbacks (Jerious Norwood, Nick Turner) who could start for anybody in this league. They can run the football. Norwood may be as fast as anybody we've played.

''Early in the season, they scored a lot of points on a lot of people.''

Indeed. MSU hung 34 points on Oregon, 28 on Tulane, 35 on Houston, 30 on Vanderbilt and 35 on Memphis.

To put that in perspective, consider that Tennessee has scored more than 24 points in regulation just one time all season -- in a 34-24 defeat of Marshall back on Sept. 6.


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