Defense Can't Halt Dawgs

During a season in which Tennessee has played below expectations in virtually every aspect of the game — defense has been the Vols' sole salvation.

However the Vols stalwart stop troops were less than stellar against Georgia last Saturday, and now that the player described as the "heart and soul" of the defense has been lost for the season can this group redeem itself?

No doubt Jason Allen's season-ending injury deprives the Vols of their leader and pacesetter on defense. His size, speed, diversity and toughness in the secondary is what truly made Tennessee's defense special. Allen was like having an extra linebacker on the field with the ability to play press coverage, which was critical for a team that is small at safety and inexperienced in the secondary.

Once Allen left Saturday's contest Tennessee's defense looked pretty ordinary, and play below the high standards it had established through the first four games of the season. A red flag went up when Georgia drove the field for its final touchdown of the game, as it had the look of clear capitulation. Would that have ever happened with Allen in the game?

Here's the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Georgia game. Grades of 90-100 are regarded as championship quality. Grades of 80-89 equate to top 25 worthy, grades of 70-79 are average marks. Grades of 60-69 are passing but problematical and won't be good enough to defeat a quality opponent. Any grade below 60 is considered failing. Special teams are also included in the defensive grades.

SECONDARY (90) Surprise, surprise. The secondary was up against it on Saturday with Allen out of action, UT's pass rush ineffective and a litany of match-up problems caused by Georgia's big tight ends and mobile QB. Nevertheless, the secondary turned in the play of the game on Jonathan Wade's interception and return to the Bulldog 1 yard-line, and was generally steady in the face of adversity. Wade is a major success story for the Vols this season, and his play in the last three contests offers hope UT's D might endure as a force. The former Junior Olympic sprint champ's 34-yard return was the biggest gain of the game for UT and it setup the Vols' only score prior to the UT's buzzer beater.... Ever improving Inky Johnson had three stops along with a nifty fumble recovery and 10-yard return... Tennessee's DBs were active and productive. Jonathan Hefney had 14 tackles in the game including eight solo stops. Antwan Stewart posted six stops (five solo) and true freshman Demetrice Morley had five primary hits.... Tennessee's air defense held Georgia to 207 yards and zero touchdowns on 16 completions in 27 attempts. That's impressive given that Shockley had good protection and talented targets to throw to. Although he was just sacked once for a one-yard loss, Shockley only gained 51 yards on 11 carries for an average of 4.6 yards per carry. That means Big Orange DBs covered well and reacted to the run.... Roshaun Fellows isn't as adept in press coverage as Wade or Allen, which could force a shuffle of personnel. Morley could move to safety allowing either Stewart or Hefney to play corner. Or Morley could play corner given his speed and excellent cover skills... . With its stinger suddenly sidelined the Vols' secondary needs to step up its level of intensity and physicality.... Incidentally, in two returns of turnovers for 44 yards the secondary nearly matched the 48-yard output in 26 carries from UT's rushing attack.

LINEBACKERS (83) Another solid, albeit unspectacular, day for Tennessee's LBs led by Kevin Simon with 15 tackles and a pass break up. Omar Gaither added 10 stops, while Jason Mitchell had three.... UT's linebackers missed several chances to down Shockley behind the line of scrimmage and have had better days in pass coverage.... The lack of depth on this unit is becoming more noticeable especially late in the game or on long drives. The only other UT LB credited with a tackle against Georgia was redshirt freshman Jerod Mayo. Going down the stretch with six straight games and no break Tennessee needs to get more backers playing time.... The loss of Allen will place a greater responsibility on the linebackers to cover tight ends and H-backs.

DEFENSIVE LINE (77) Allowing 4.7 yards per carry while recording one sack for a single yard doesn't reflect well upon the play of UT's D-line.... The Vols were hurt by misdirection and Georgia overpowered the defensive front for some yardage between the tackles and shut down the run in the red zone where both of Georgia's offensive TDs were scored. The Bulldogs were also able to put together a couple of long scoring drives of 84 and 73 yards against the Vols.... Starting tackles Justin Harrell and Jesse Mahelona combined for just two solo tackles in the game while Tony McDaniel finished with three. Turk McBride didn't make any tackles but he did jump offsides three times, responding to the snap count instead of ball movement. Mahelona forced a fumble trailing Shockley on a run in open field which was the highlight for the D-tackles.... It was a better day for the defensive ends as Parys Haralson posted five tackles including a pair behind the line of scrimmage. Jason Hall also had five stops and UT's only sack of the game. Antonio Reynolds came off the bench to contribute two tackles and he batted down a pass. Xavier Mitchell also had two stops.

SPECIAL TEAMS (33) What's to like? What's new? Tennessee was completely outplayed by Georgia on special teams. How were the Dawgs better? Let me count the ways.... The Bulldogs were 2 for 2 in field goal attempts. Tennessee was 0 for 0. UGA had three punts downed inside the 20. UT had one. Georgia had two punt returns for 66 yards including a 54-yard TD. The Vols had one return for five yards. Throw in three UT holding penalties and this was a complete collapse of kicking game fundamentals. The rumbling heard after Thomas Flowers' game breaking TD return was General Neyland rolling over in his grave. No wonder nobody on UT's staff wants to be called the special teams coach.

OVERALL DEFENSE (84) Surrendering only 20 points defensively wasn't bad given Georgia compiled over 400 yards in total offense, but on balance it was UT's worst defensive outing of the season. The Vols played more of a containment game in the first half and when they got more aggressive in the second, Shockley repeatedly sidestepped pressure and escaped the sack. Is constantly playing from behind finally taking its toll on UT's D?


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