Revisiting Secondary Analysis

Penalize yours truly with an extra assignment for fumbling the ball on today's analysis of UT's 2004 secondary, which just goes to show: It's a heck of a lot easier to write a wrong than it is to right a wrong, or rewrite one.

Thanks to an alert reader on our premium board, I now know Brandon Johnson didn't play against Alabama last season, and using that game in my data alters my averages. Given that error I have dutifully returned to the old drawing board in order to reconfigure my position.

Let me add that the mistake, while disconcerting, wasn't an attempt to pull a fast one but rather an unfortunate faux pas on my part. In short: my resource correctly stated Johnson was dismissed from UT's squad after game seven, which was the Alabama contest. However, he was suspended after the Ole Miss game, and so, didn't play against the Crimson Tide although he was still a member of the squad. It also appears from reviewing film that Johnson and Allen had an amalgamation of assignments early in the season that saw them play as both the corner and safety.

In order to make the case a pure Big Orange to Big Orange comparison, I've condensed the focus to UT's four SEC road games which were conference games No. 3, 4, 6 and 7. Admittedly Georgia and Mississippi were better at a combined 14 wins 10 losses than South Carolina and Vandy were at 8-13, but you wouldn't know by looking at the stats from those games.

Tennessee played Georgia and Ole Miss with Allen and Johnson as the starting safety tandem. The South Carolina and Vandy games were played after Johnson had been dismissed.

In October games against Georgia and Ole Miss, Tennessee gave up a combined 33-of-67 pass completions (49 percent) for 377 total passing yards or an average of 188 yards through the air per contest. UT allowed and 145 rushing yards (72 per game) in 67 carries.

Against South Carolina and Vanderbilt the numbers are 56-of-82 passing (68 percent) for 655 total yards or an average of 327 yards per game. The Gamecocks and Commodores combined for 70 carries, gaining 326 rushing yards, an average of 163 yards on the ground per game. Tennessee gave up 28 total defensive points vs. Georgia and Ole MIss, compared to the 62 total points surrendered by the defense against South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Johnson intercepted two passes against Ole Miss and never played at Tennessee again. How good could UT's defense have been with Johnson and Allen teaming up at the safety slots last season? How much better would Tennessee be with Johnson entrenched at strong safety in 2005? It would certainly make the move of Allen to the corner an easier transition.

The sampling (two games) isn't large enough to establish a trend, but it may indicate the importance of UT's defense having big, physical safeties. The added run support allows linebackers more freedom to attack and makes it tougher for quarterbacks to read. It's also interesting to note that Allen and Johnson caused a combined five fumbles in 2004 while no Tennessee linebacker had more than one.

It's understandable Allen wants to prove himself at the corner to increase his value as an NFL Draft choice, even though he projects as a safety at the professional level. He will get a chance to do just that but it wouldn't be surprising to see him play a lot at safety. He is the only returning starter in the secondary and he's an All-SEC performer at safety not to mention being the league's leading tackler in 2004. Large and athletic he follows in the mode of former Vol safeties Gibril Wilson and Julian Battle.

No doubt, Allen will be a quality corner who offers an answer to the type of big wideouts that are so prevalent in today's college game, but his tackle opportunities will be dramatically reduced. Opponents are already reluctant to run wide against a fast UT defense, Allen provides another reason to test the middle of the defense where the Vols are more suspect.

There's also the likelihood opposing offenses will try to create match-up problems by using smaller, quicker receivers against Allen. For sure, they can avoid the SEC's leading tackler by simply running to the other side of the field. That means RoShaun Fellows will become a target at the other corner much as he was in 2004.

It's something to ponder while pricing airline tickets to Pasadena.


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