Asked following Saturday's disappointing 27-14 loss to Georgia if the poor play of Tennessee's offense and special teams has affected morale on defense, linebacker Kevin Simon replied: "Not really. In some ways it lifts us up."
Crazy as it sounds, he may be right. With Georgia leading 13-0, the Vol offense blew a third-and-one at Bulldogs' 30-yard line. Guard Rob Smith incurred a 15-yard penalty for an illegal block and Robert Meachem dropped a 16-yard pass, forcing UT to punt.
You'd figure Vol defenders would be agitated by this turn of events. Instead, they were motivated.
"We just said, ‘Hey, man, we got to put them (offensive players) on our backs," Simon recalls. "We've got to get the ball back, get a turnover.' Sure enough, Jonathan gets an interception and returns it to the one-inch line."
Indeed. On the second play of Georgia's ensuing possession Vol cornerback Jonathan Wade intercepted a D.J. Shockley pass and returned it 34 yards. Tennessee's offense scored on the next play, thanks to the huge assist from Vol defenders.
Special teams later gave the game away by surrendering a 54-yard punt return, providing Georgia with a seemingly insurmountable 20-7 lead. Apparently demoralized by this gut-wrenching development, the Vol defense allowed a touchdown drive that widened the gap to 27-7.
Except for that last TD drive by Georgia, however, Tennessee's defense has been bailing out the offense all season long. Simon & Company seem to accept this role philosophically.
"It's kind of like we've got to put it on us, get the ball back to try and help them out," he said.
Maybe the play of the Vol offense and special teams will take an upward turn in the coming weeks. If not, they'd better hope the morale of the defense doesn't take a downward turn. Things could get really ugly then.