UT's Defense Fails Again

A week after 2-9 Vanderbilt scored 20 points in the first half against UT, 2-9 Kentucky scored 24 points in the first half against the Vols. What will 11-0 Auburn compile against Tennessee's porous defense? Will the Tigers exceed the 34-point total they posted in the first encounter?

In short, Tennessee's defense the last two weeks was offensive. The fact UT played well in stretches of both games indicates it's more a problem with effort and execution than it is with personnel, although it's difficult to ignore the mounting injuries and general lack of depth among the Big Orange stop troops.

Here's the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Kentucky game. Grades of 90-100 are regarded as championship quality. Grades of 80-89 equate to top 25 worthy, grades of 70-79 are average marks. Grades of 60-69 are passing but problematical. Any grade below 60 is considered failing. We have broken down the units this week to offense and defense. Special teams are also included in the defensive grades.

LINEBACKERS (75) Kevin Burnett recorded a team-high 10 tackles, including nine solo, and made one of only two tackles the Vols had for minus yardage. Burnett has put together a superb senior season. Omar Gaither was active and around the football. He finished with seven tackles (six solo) and had a quarterback hurry. Jason Mitchell had a couple of QB hurries but only made three stops which is very low for a middle linebacker. Mitchell was too often taken out on inside runs and didn't play screens particularly well. In fairness to Mitchell, he's playing out of position in the middle but he hasn't improved since taking over the spot during the Florida game. He will be tested severely against Auburn. Slowed by injury, Jon Poe played sparingly against Kentucky and only had one assist. Ellix Wilson contributed three tackles but sophomore Daniel Brooks, a former high school all-American, remains a spectator.

DEFENSIVE LINE (56) The defensive line lacks depth and the injury to Justin Harrell compounds the problem. Jesse Mahelona still isn't 100 percent but he played and recorded three stops while fighting double-team blocks throughout the game. Karlton Neal had UT's only sack for minus 13 yards but he also lost containment a couple of times and finished with one tackle. Defensive end Parys Haralson added three tackles and Jason Hall had two. Defensive tackles Tony McDaniel and Turk McBride had one stop each. The D-line didn't get much pressure on quarterback Shane Boyd and gave up too much on the ground to a weak running team. The Wildcats averaged 3.6 yards per carry.

SECONDARY (53) One of the SEC's worst passing QBs exploited the Vols secondary for 20-of-32, 202 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Scott Mitchell caught nine passes for 111 yards including a 41-yard reception. Tight end Jacob Tamme caught four passes for 55 yards and two touchdowns — the first two of his college career. Jason Allen finished tied for the team lead with 10 tackles but he also missed an opportunity for an interception and picked up a questionable personal foul. Jonathan Wade had five tackles but got turned around on a couple of throws. Jonathan Hefney had four tackles. Considering the opponent, the secondary should have had a much better day. The DBs played behind the ball and were too slow to close.

SPECIAL TEAMS (49) Two blocked kicks, a punting average of 33 yards and zero yards on punt returns. It doesn't get much worst than UT played Saturday against Kentucky. Given the Vols team speed and experienced kickers this should have been a Tennessee strength this year but instead it continues to underachieve and is showing no signs of improvement.

OVERALL (59) Against a strong team this would have been an unworthy performance, but against a weak Wildcat squad it was simply abysmal. Scoring drives of 91, 80 and 77 yards doesn't bode well for the immediate future.

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