Vol 'D' in statistical freefall

Tennessee appeared to have the stoutest defense in college football … through the first three quarters of Game 1, at least. To that point the Vols had limited a potent Cal attack to just 158 yards of total offense and three points.

In the five quarters since then, however, the Vols have surrendered 586 yards and 45 points.

To put that in perspective, Tennessee permitted an average of just 53 yards and 1.0 point per quarter in the first three periods it played this fall, then allowed 117 yards and 9.0 points per quarter in the next five periods. That's a pretty dramatic turnabout.

It's true that the Big Orange substituted liberally in the fourth quarter vs. Cal, enabling the Golden Bears to tack on 15 late points. It's also true that the Vols were befuddled in Game 2 by an unorthodox flex-bone attack that Air Force used to pile up 30 points, 22 first downs and 281 rushing yards. Still, you wonder if Tennessee's defense might be reeling a bit heading into Saturday night's showdown with an explosive Florida team.

Not at all, says defensive coordinator John Chavis. He has complete faith in his troops, despite their statistical meltdown over the past five quarters.

"I'm not concerned about the fourth quarter against Cal," he said. "And I'm not big on statistics. If I'd been concerned about that, we would've kept our starters in there. You've got to get young guys ready to play and get them some experience."

Despite giving up yards and points in bunches the past five quarters, Chavis is convinced his players are as confident as ever.

"Our guys expect to play well," he said. "I'm not ready to can this group based on what happened in the Air Force game. Air Force got after us, but they get after a lot of people. I'm not particularly happy that they did but our kids competed, and I was proud of that. They were out there fighting their rear ends off."

Leading 31-17 with around four minutes left, Tennessee seemed to have the game won when it put Air Force in a fourth-and-10 situation at the Vol 24-yard line. Shaun Carney completed an 11-yard pass to Justin Handley, however, to sustain the drive. Air Force scored a touchdown three plays later, recovered an on-sides kick, then scored again in just six plays to pull within 31-30.

"If we make that fourth-down play, it's all over with," Chavis noted. "We're not happy with what went on but I think these kids still have an opportunity to be a good defensive football team."

So does sophomore linebacker Jerod Mayo. He believes the real Vol defense is the one fans saw the first three quarters of the season, not the past five quarters.

"I'm not concerned at all," he said. "We hadn't seen the Air Force offense before EVER, and their guy (Carney) did an excellent job hiding the ball. We've seen this (Florida spread option) offense plenty of times. Georgia runs it … Florida runs it … we see it year in and year out.

"We'll be real prepared for this game."

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