"It was one of the best efforts I've seen by a defensive football team in a long, long time," head coach Phillip Fulmer said on his post-game show. "The plan was good but, most of all, the kids executed."
Now that tackle Justin Harrell is out for the year with a ruptured bicep, Tennessee has had to replace all seven members of its 2005 front seven. The Vols are especially young and inexperienced at linebacker. Still, senior linebacker Marvin Mitchell likes what he is seeing from his defensive mates.
"To have a good defense you've got to have all 11 guys flying around, and that's exactly what we do," he said. "The guys upfront are getting off blocks and making plays. Even the linebackers are playing great. At the beginning of the season we didn't know what to expect from the linebackers but they're playing great. And the secondary's doing pretty well, too."
Harrell's injury has forced Turk McBride to move from end to tackle and thrust Xavier Mitchell into the starting lineup at end. Amazingly, the Vols have scarcely missed a beat.
"We had a big injury with Justin Harrell going out but Turk McBride has stepped in and made a few big plays," Mitchell said. "As long as we keep going, we'll be a good defense."
"The option hurt us in the past few games, so they thought they'd be able to come out and run a little option," Mitchell noted. "But we stopped that quick."
Fulmer was thrilled with the Vol defense, noting that it "just really, really played outstanding."
The defense's finest hour came after Memphis, down just 10-0, recovered a LaMarcus Coker fumble at the Vol 48-yard line. A touchdown right there could've shifted the momentum to the Tigers.
"One of the biggest stops of the day was after we had the turnover," Fulmer noted. "They (Vol defenders) go right back out, get a three-and-out and get the ball back."
Basically, Tennessee's defensive strategy is this: Stop the run, THEN try to stop the pass. That strategy worked like a charm against Memphis.
"When you can stop the run and concentrate on making sure you're playing good coverage, things go a lot better," Fulmer said. "We did a good job of stopping the run and playing good coverage."
Despite losing cornerbacks Inquoris Johnson and Roshaun Fellows since preseason drills began, the Vol secondary did a great job shutting down Memphis' tall and talented receivers.
"We challenged them," Fulmer said. "We were up in their face, not giving them anything short. And we tackled really, really well."