Tennessee's defense had to carry most of the load in Game 1 vs. Alabama-Birmingham, all of the load in Game 2 at Florida and all of the first-half load in Game 3 at LSU. The Vol offense finally sprang to life in the second half at LSU, scoring 30 points after intermission. That encouraged UT defenders who had been getting no help previously.
"It was a great feeling to see everything being put together," senior cornerback Jason Allen said. "It's kinda' like putting a puzzle together. At first, you can't find a piece and you get real frustrated. Later on, you start finding pieces and everything starts coming together. I feel like that's what happened in the second half."
Tennessee's players and coaches hope the puzzle is complete heading into today's 12:30 kickoff against visiting Ole Miss. They'd love to see the Vols perform well in all phases of play for four quarters.
"Offense, defense, special teams – everything started clicking the second half at LSU," Allen said. "We got the rhythm. If we can play like that, it's going to be hard for teams to beat us."
When Tennessee's offense was sputtering, Vol defenders figured they had to pitch a shutout in order to win. Now that the attack unit appears ready to carry its share of the load, though, Vol defenders still want to pitch a shutout.
"Regardless of the situation, if we can pitch a shutout, that's what we want to do," Allen said. "If the offense puts up 30, 40, 50 points and the defense puts a goose egg up on the board, I feel like we're capable of doing that. I have that much confidence in this team – the defense AND the offense."
Naturally, seeing UT's offense finally show a spark in the second half vs. LSU gave Tennessee's defensive players a big lift.
"No doubt," Allen said. "That showed they've got our back and we've got their back. Sometimes the offense has to carry the defense, and vice-versa. The last couple of games the defense was carrying the offense. I feel like the offense is on a good roll right now but it's got to continue working hard, not be satisfied with the performance it had in the second half."
Although the offense appears to have escaped its early-season doldrums, odds are the stop unit will be called upon to carry the team again at some point. When that happens, the defenders will be ready.
"They believe in themselves," Fulmer said. "Our scheme is good and guys are doing their jobs."
Because of the zealous way they fly to the football, Tenessee's defenders occasionally overrun plays. This is a shortcoming Fulmer can live with, however.
"We have to be careful and not over-pursue sometimes," the head coach said. "That's not a bad weakness but we have to be careful about that."