LINEBACKERS: (79) Four of Tennessee's top six tacklers were linebackers, including chart topper Omar Gaither with 11 stops (nine solo). Jason Mitchell and Jon Poe took over for the injured Kevin Simon in the middle and performed well, although each had his trials in coverage. Kevin Burnett (five tackles) had a quality start until he was forced out of game with a twisted ankle. He was replaced by sophomore Daniel Brooks who had the best game of his young career. Brooks' ability to reinforce the outside linebacker positions is a key to UT's linebacker corps this year with Mitchell moving to the middle. The Vols need another young linebacker to step up his game and contribute to the rotation. Burnett and Gaither each contributed fine interceptions to Tennessee's defensive efforts. However, the group as a whole could do a better job tackling.
SPECIAL TEAMS: (65) Outside of Dustin Colquitt's booming punts and superb placement (three of his six punts went out inside the 20), UT's special teams have been spotty this season at best. That was true again Saturday as the Vols were 0 for 1 on field goal attempts and netted only 19 yards on five returns while allowing 97 yards on four returns. As the margin for error gets finer with tougher competition, this type of disparity could make the difference in a tight game. The Vols need someone who can catch punts, if not return them, to prevent the long rolls that eat up vital yards. The overall lack of production on kick returns is disturbing as is UT's coverage of kickoffs.
SECONDARY: (62) This is still UT's weakest link as Vol defensive backs were scorched by La Tech's second-team quarterback for 258 yards on 17-of-30 passing, including a 54-yard completion and a touchdown. The names change but the performance is largely the same — not good. At times in the first half, UT's DBs were running around like a Chinese fire drill trying to get lined up in the right position. It looked much the same as Tennessee played in the first half against Chris Leak of Florida. However, once again Tennessee's staff made adjustments at the half and the Vols played better. The key is finding the combination of players that work best as a unit and that appears to be a challenge for coach Larry Slade since some of the DBs that can cover don't tackle particularly well while the ones that can tackle don't cover. Example: RoShaun Fellows recorded seven tackles (six solo) but appeared lost in coverage more than once. Conversely, Corey Campbell has the speed and talent to be effective in coverage but he's not a good tackler at this point which can be disastrous at free safety since he's the last line of defense. Both Jonathan Hefney and Jonathan Wade are inconsistent, which isn't surprising seeing that they are getting their first taste of playing on an island at the collegiate level. The cushion being allowed by UT's corners is easy pickings for D-I signal callers. The ingredients are there for a fine secondary, but the schedule is unforgiving. This may be the biggest challenge Slade has faced at Tennessee and he'll need to call on all of his experience to bring the secondary up to standards. Luckily, he has a big-time talent in Jason Allen who can help ground this group and elevate its play.
OVERALL: (73) If Louisiana Tech had done most of its damage on offense late instead of early, the 17 points and 330 yards wouldn't be as much of a concern. However, the Bulldogs biggest bites were taken out of UT's No. 1 defense which makes one wonder what would have happened against Jason Campbell or David Greene. The paradox is that if you've got problems with one aspect of play the entire defense suffers. Improving secondary play is Job One for Tennessee's staff this week.