UT's D Earns A

John Chavis' defense could have sued UT's offense for nonsupport last season, and was unfortunate enough to suffer the same fate, although it played winning football for most of the 2005 campaign and deserved better.

Against California the stop troops set the tone early with an intensity and physical brand of ball that rocked the Golden Bears' offense back on its heels and destroyed its timing. UT's young LB corps flew to the football and blitzed the QB into costly mistakes. The secondary could be Tennessee's best since the late 90s, and the defensive ends were better than advertised.

Playing with a comfortable lead allowed the defense to be aggressive and get a lot of players in the game. Depth will be a key to how good the Vols can be on this side of the ball in 2006.

Here's the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-California game. Grades of 90-100 are regarded as championship quality. Grades of 80-89 equate to top 25 worthy, grades of 70-79 are winning 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 included among defensive ratings but they aren't factored into the defense's total score.

LINEBACKERS (95) Tennessee's trio of starting linebackers were the Vols top three tacklers, led by Ryan Karl with nine stops. Jerrod Mayo recorded seven tackles including three sacks for minus 20 yards, while senior Marvin Mitchell added another seven stops from his MLB post, including two behind the line of scrimmage. Rico McCoy had two tackles in the first action of his college career, and Ellix Wilson added one off the bench. A quick, active group that swarm the ball and strike with authority. SECONDARY (94) Jonathan Wade seemed to be around every pass California's Nate Longshore attempted in the first half, as he finished with three of UT's nine breakups. Inky Johnson had six stops, picked off a pass and returned it nine yards. Antwan Stewart had four tackles and brought back an INT for 22 yards. Demetrice Morley had four solo stops and a pass breakup. Solid work by a unit that has the potential to get a lot better before the season is out.

DEFENSIVE LINE (90) Nothing spectacular from this group but sound play that allowed UT's linebackers to chase the ball and pressure the quarterback. The Vols were able to get some young reserves valuable playing time. High marks to Turk McBride for playing at both defensive end and tackle during the contest. He remains a key to how good this group might be in 2006.

SPECIAL TEAMS (88) Tennessee's special teams didn't win this game for the Vols, but they didn't lose it either which is definite improvement over the recent past. Good punting by Britton Colquitt (41.3 yard average) and James Wilhoit put three of his kickoffs in the end zone for setbacks, while knocking home five extra points. No fumbles or penalties on returns and no big plays allowed.

OVERALL (92) Only California's 15-point fourth quarter lowers the Vols overall defensive mark, as they dominated the first three quarters of play until the late letdown. Tennessee needs to get more pressure from its down linemen, and the development of depth in the trenches remains a priority. Still there's a lot of speed and talent on this side of the ball, and the coaching is outstanding.

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