As secondary goes ...

There's been a strong parallel this fall between the play of Tennessee's defensive backfield and the opponent's point total: When the secondary shines, the opponent's point total declines. When the secondary blows, the opponent's point total grows.

To wit:

• The secondary played well against Nevada-Las Vegas (allowing just 175 passing yards) and Tennessee won 42-17.

• The secondary played well against Georgia (allowing just 19 completions in 41 attempts for 209 yards) and Tennessee won 19-14.

• The secondary played well against Ole Miss (allowing just 162 passing yards) and Tennessee won 21-17.

• The secondary played well against Alabama (allowing just 113 passing yards) and Tennessee won 17-13.

• The secondary played well against Notre Dame (allowing just 118 passing yards) but the Vol offense stalled in a 17-13 loss.

Now consider these performances:

• The secondary played poorly against Florida (allowing 286 passing yards) and the Vols were lucky to win 30-28.

• The secondary played poorly against Auburn (allowing 252 passing yards) and the Vols lost 34-10.

• The secondary played poorly against South Carolina (allowing 341 passing yards) and the Vols held on to prevail 43-29.

• The secondary played poorly against Vanderbilt (allowing 314 passing yards) and the Vols were pushed to the limit before winning 38-33.

• The secondary played poorly against a pass-poor Kentucky team (allowing 218 passing yards and two passing TDs) and the Vols eked by 37-31.

• The secondary played poorly in the rematch with Auburn (allowing 374 passing yards and three passing TDs) in a 38-28 SEC Championship Game loss.

Clearly, the secondary must play one of its better games if the Vols are to hang with high-scoring Texas A&M Jan. 1 in the Cotton Bowl.

''That's been our achilles heel right now -- injuries and youth and everything back there,'' Vol head man Phil Fulmer concedes. ''We did a good job against several teams in a row of not giving up big plays. Against Auburn we gave up those big plays, and those are obviously difference-makers when you let people gets chunks of yards. I'm hopeful we will improve on that.''

Junior safety Jason Allen, the clearcut leader of the secondary, admits that Vol DBs have been terribly inconsistent this fall.

''I feel like it's been a rollercoaster, up and down,'' he says. ''Against some of the better teams we'd have a high point. Then against some of the other teams we've had some low points. We haven't been consistent.

''We ARE young but there's no use using that as an excuse. Guys need to learn from these mistakes they've made this year, then take that to the bowl game and into next year.''

What is Allen, as a team captain, doing to help his youthful cohorts?

''I tell guys in practice, whether it's a walk-on or whatever, to work on your technique,'' he says. ''If you work on your technique now it becomes a habit. Then in the game it comes natural.''


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