|DEFENSIVE GRADES: Tennessee Vols vs UAB Blazers|
With the offense misfiring against UAB, Tennessee's defense found itself in a fire fight and responded with a high-caliber performance.
|EXPLAINATION OF THE GRADING SYSTEM|
Defensive ratings - Tennessee vs UAB.
Tennessee's front four shut down the run and held UAB to only 53 yards in 23 carries or 2.3 yards per attempt. The Blazers countered with a control passing game that enabled them to work the clock without benefit of the run. The tactic worked, at least in part, because the Vols failed to get consistent pressure on QB Darrell Hackney, who effectively worked the short zones with quick, precision passes. He shook off a couple of sacks and escaped from the pocket a few times to avoid losses. Hackney was as good as advertised and presented challenges the Vols won¹t likely see in one package again this season. Big, strong, with surprising mobility and an outstanding passing arm that is as accurate as it was strong, the XL QB gave UT fits. Still the D-line was as responsible as any unit for the victory. Justin Harrell¹s interception of a third quarter screen pass in the red zone was a crucial play. Turk McBride recorded five tackles, including one for a loss. Mahelona fought off double-team schemes to chart three solo stops, including the only sack of Hackney. The biggest disappointment was the defensive end play as starters Parys Haralason and Jason Hall combined for just three assists. Moreover, Haralson was flagged for a couple of late hits that kept UAB drives alive. Antonio Reynolds contributed a couple of tackles in relief of Hall, while Xavier Mitchell had one.
A solid, albeit unspectacular, day for the Vols vaunted linebacker corps in a game that saw the return of fifth-year senior Kevin Simon from knee surgery and the debut of redshirt freshman Jerod Mayo, who recorded six tackles as did Omar Gaither. Simon and Jason Mitchell had five stops each, while Marvin Mitchell and Ryan Karl each had two stops. Gaither forced a fumble on UAB¹s first play that Simon recovered. Normally, UT¹s linebackers would post better overall numbers but UAB¹s passing attack forced them into coverage and out of their element. The short passing attack also rendered the blitz much less effective which further limited UT¹s LBs and altered John Chavis' aggressive approach. Clearly, the Vols have a lot of speed and depth at linebacker and as they develop more cohesion they'll continue to improve.
The biggest question coming into the season remains a source of concern as the Vols prepare for their annual showdown with pass-happy Florida. However any concerns about Jason Allen's production falling off with his move to the corner from safety were eliminated as he recorded a game-high 14 stops including 13 solo tackles. UAB wasted no time testing Allen and had some success exploiting the cushion he had to allow their quick receivers. Jonathan Wade and RoShaun Fellows shared duties at the other corner with less favorable results. Wade was burned on a crossing route for the Blazers only score. Together Fellows and Wade combined for three stops and two assists. Starting strong safety Antwan Stewart finished with just one tackle, while free safety Jonathan Hefney had three. True freshman Demetrice Morley was credited with breaking up UAB¹s final pass attempt at the goal line to prevent the Blazers from tying the game, or winning with a two-point conversion. The Vols have a couple of weeks to evaluate and adjust the secondary, as personnel and position issues remain unresolved.
Just when you think the Vols have turned a corner they run into a wall. James Wilhoit got the season started off right by nailing 46-yard field goal to cap UT's first drive and give the Vols a lead it would never surrender. However in the second quarter he missed badly from 47 yards as the Vols failed to add to their 10-0 lead. Every field goal attempt from 40 yards or beyond becomes problematical. The concern is that the first kick split the uprights while the second wasn¹t close. Inconsistency has haunted Wilhoit's career at UT and it continues. However, his four kickoffs had good distance and were high enough to allow excellent coverage. Britton Colquitt made his long-awaited debut had a 38-yard punt in his only attempt. UT¹s kick coverage was sound but the return game was virtually nonexistent.
Giving up 10 points to a team that averaged 31 points a game last season isn¹t bad at all. In fact, FSU was the only team to hold Watson Brown's Blazers' to under 20 in 2004. It was a good test for a UT defense that can be outstanding before the season is over but will it be soon enough for the Vols to win on the road in Gainesville and Baton Rouge?