D Breaks But Doesn't Bend

Tennessee hasn't suffered any one-sided losses this season in terms of being routed, but they have suffered a lot of one-sided defeats in terms of playing good defense and bad offense, but that wasn't the case against Vanderbilt.

No, this was an equal opportunity setback, a balanced beating in which both units were inconsistent and inopportune at critical stages of the contest. The Vols still haven't produced that elusive complete victory, but they now have that complete defeat. Ironically, it came in a game when the special teams played very well and the offense scored 24 points — albeit against a below average defense — which was more than it tallied in any home game this season. (UT's 27 point total vs. Ole Miss included a defensive touchdown.)

A lot more credit goes to Vanderbilt's offense than criticism goes to Tennessee's defense. This is the best passing offense in the conference and Cutler is probably the best signal caller, although a good case could be made for JaMarcus Russell. When Cutler could set his feet and Earl Bennett had three seconds to make his break, the Vols didn't have an answer.

Nevertheless, the ease with which Vanderbilt scored it's game-winning touchdown was totally out of character for the Vols this season. If UT had its best cover corner on Bennett there's a lot in the way of development and acquisition required at that position during the offseason.

Here's the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt 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. We have broken down the units this week to offense and defense. Special teams are also included in the defensive grades, but are graded separately and don't count on the overall defensive grade.

DEFENSIVE LINE (81) The D-line didn't compile a lot of numbers in this game because Vanderbilt didn't test Tennessee between the tackles. Starting tackles Jesse Mahelona and Justin Harrell had a combined one solo stop and two assists. Harrell also recorded a sack and broke up two passes. Turk McBride came off the bench to post a pair of tackles, and Tony McDaniel added an assist. Another standout game for senior defensive end Jason Hall with five stops, two assists, one pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. Parys Haralson had two tackles with two assists, but he didn't provide the type of pressure to the passer that fans have come to expect. The defensive line opened some lanes for the linebackers, but didn't collapse the pocket or make Cutler uncomfortable.

LINEBACKERS (74) With Jason Mitchell and Kevin Simon slowed with knee injuries and contributing only one tackle each, Omar Gaither stepped his game up, recording eight tackles (five solo), including three behind the line with two sacks and a forced fumble. Jon Poe posted three tackles filling in for Simon in the middle and Marvin Mitchell had one stop off the bench. Lack of depth here has finally caught up with the Vols.

SECONDARY (66) It's hard to blame the secondary for poor coverage when Cutler had so much time early and made the Vols pay. The defensive backs were generally successful in cutting down receivers after the catch and they had plenty of opportunities. Antwan Stewart led UT tacklers with 8 stops and two assists while Jonathan Hefney and Inky Johnson recorded seven primary stops each. Demetrice Morley had two tackles and a QB hurry off the bench. Jonathan Wade and Roshaun Fellows finished with one solo stop apiece. Certainly, there were extenuating circumstances but it's hard to overlook the secondary's role in allowing the Commodores to complete nearly 70 percent of their pass attempts for 315 yards and three TDs.

SPECIAL TEAMS (94) On balance this was the best effort of the season by UT's special teams. Hefney broke one punt return for 43 yards to set the Vols up with a first down at Vandy's 35, but the Vols couldn't capitalize. He returned five punts for a total of 75 yards in the game, averaging 15 yard per return. Vol freshman Lucas Taylor returned two kicks for 77 yards, including a 47-yard effort. In kick coverage Tennessee held Vandy to 21 total yards on one kickoff return and three punt returns. James Wilhoit hit a 29-yard field goal to give Tennessee its first lead in the fourth quarter and was outstanding on kickoffs. He has made 9 of his last 10 field goal attempts. Britton Colquitt averaged 46.7 yards on six punts with a long of 60 yards, but didn't hit his last punt very well, giving Vandy the ball at its own 37. Still, it's hard to complain about this type of production especially since UT's special teams have been MIA for much of the campaign.


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