Nightmare For Defense

Despite the fact the Florida Gators are over the horizon and marching en masse on Knoxville, it would not be surprising if UT defensive coordinator John "Chief" Chavis was torn from sleep some night this week by the specter of Air Force's triple-option offense ripping through his tribe of Stop Troopers with alarming regularity.

How could he not?

DEFENSIVE GRADES: Tennessee Vols vs Air Force Falcons
This was a beat down in real time and on a grand scale. The Falcons ran for 281 yards in 51 carries for an average of 5.5 yards per carry, 15 first downs and four touchdowns. They connected on 7-of-9 passes for 127 yards, an average of 18.1 yards, and seven first downs.

It was a tough test for Tennessee that exacted a physical toll and emotional energy. It was a hard earned victory that will look better in time, and feels pretty good right now to Tennessee fans, considering the alternative. Upsets are on the rise in college football and were common on Saturday. In this era any team that aspires to championships is going to have to win close ones like this.

Air Force deserves credit for extraordinary execution and effort. These are men you want on your side in a war. They play for keeps. And football is essentially a war game — replete with attacks, bombs, blitzes, ground tactics, strategic ploys, flanking maneuvers and fresh troops. When on the brink of defeat, the Falcons kept their poise and forced the issue to a single play from the 3 yard-line. That's when the X-Man came to the rescue with a stone cold tackle in which he buried a fly boy in the sacred sod of Shield-Watkins Field, and lifted the Vols on his shoulders.

Here's the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Air Force 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.


Defensive ratings - Tennessee vs Air Force.
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. 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.


With Air Force enjoying so much success running the triple option, UT's secondary had to come up in run support and still provide the last line of defense against a very disciplined attack. Free safety Jonathan Hefney led that charge with a game high 17 tackles, including eight solo stops. Antwan Stewart added seven stops (six solo tackles) and Inky Johnson recorded four stops before being carried from the field on his shield in the fourth quarter.... For the most part UT had good coverage and forced QB Shaun Carney to run on several pass attempts. That task was made more difficult because the Vols front was unable to generate much pressure....Tennessee's DBs made a number of solo tackles in the open field that saved touchdowns and helped slow the Falcons' offense. On the other hand, there was far too much yardage gained off the pitch. On balance, it was the best of a bad bunch of performances on defense.


Air Force's flex bone forced UT's linebackers into more of a read-and-react role and limited their blitz opportunities. Missed assignments were a problem and the linebackers never appeared to be completely comfortable against the option. It's natural for linebackers to chase the ball and it goes against their every instinct to play a less aggressive game. Still there were bright spots headed by senior Marvin Mitchell's 12 tackles (10 solo) and UT's only quarterback hurry. Jerod Mayo had 10 stops, including one for a loss. Ryan Karl recorded seven stops and one of the Vols two sacks. Rico McCoy had two tackles. Pass coverage could have been better.This unit is probably the Vols best but there's not a lot of experience or depth.


Failed to pressure the passer or shut down the dive. The inside appeared soft especially when Justin Harrell (2 tackles) had to leave the game. Turk McBride played both end and tackle, recording nine tackles (5 solo). Xavier Mitchell had three tackles, including the most important of the game on the Falcons' two-point attempt. Antonio Reynolds had two stops as did Demonte Bolden. J.T. Mapu had one tackle. Matt McGlothlin added an assist.


A failing grade that could have easily been an incomplete. The Vols never punted and only fielded one punt which Hefney returned for eight yards. James Wilhoit was solid as usual with four extra points and a 35-yard field goal. Three of his five kickoffs were returned for a total of 59 yards. The real problem was UT's kick returns. Demetrice Morley put UT in a hole when his knee touched the ground at the 1 yard-line as he attempted to field a kick in the third quarter. Air Force also recovered an onside kick and had another called back because of an offside penalty. The Vols can't afford any slippage in special teams play after last season's fiasco.


The Vols played with good energy and effort, but emotion was more difficult to produce in this contest against a heavy underdog sandwiched between a pair of ranked opponents. Air Force's option offense posed problems UT was not accustomed to facing. Will the experience help the Vols defend Florida's version of the option?

More in-depth info...

Game #: 1118
Site: Knoxville
Date: Sep. 9
Conference: MTNW
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Falcons - DeBerry

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