UT's D Scores A

Watching Tennessee's defense anticipate every move Memphis made on Saturday would lead one to believe the Vols sat in on the Tigers' offensive meetings last week. UT's outstanding effort underscored there is no substitute for preparation and speed on defense.

Here's the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Memphis 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. An opponent degree of difficulty (between 1 and 10) has been added to the formula.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY (5.0)

DEFENSIVE LINE (95) No team can dominate an offense like UT did Memphis without getting superb play in the trenches... The Vols interior linemen did a much better job of maintaining good pad leverage and getting off blocks than they did against Air Force and Marshall.... The importance of Turk McBride's outstanding work at tackle can't be overstated. He has stepped into the huge shoes vacated by Justin Harrell and hasn't missed a beat. The fact McBride moved down from the more glamorous defensive end position to anchor the D-line's interior makes his achievements that much more commendable. McBride finished with three solo tackles including a pair for losses.... Also taking his game up a notch was redshirt freshman Wes Brown who had a pair of solo stops with one for loss. He also picked up a roughing the passer penalty, an indication he's learning on the job. Brown has an impressive motor and a nose for the ball.... Robert Ayers (two solo, one for loss) is improving at end, and JC transfer Walter Fisher recorded a tackle in his first D-I action. Antonio Reynolds (one solo) is steady on the flank. Add Xavier Mitchell to the mix and it's clear Tennessee is developing depth at defensive end.... Although the Vols had no sacks in this game, Memphis only attempted 17 passes most of which were the short variety. It did control run gaps, freeing the linebackers to clean up. The next stage in the D-line's evolution is to develop depth, preferably in form of five-player rotations at both tackle and end.

LINEBACKERS (94) For a unit populated with a lot of youth, UT's linebackers play very sound football. They carry out assignments, rarely get out of position and are solid tacklers.... Ryan Karl (five tackles) is a good athlete with acute instincts and a knack for finding the football. Marvin Mitchell (six tackles) provides a run stopper in the middle with the mobility to cover a back or blitz a QB. Jerod Mayo, who was limited against Memphis, has potential to become a true impact performer.... The Vols got several younger LBs into the mix on Saturday. Rico McCoy and Adam Myers-White had three stops each, while Ellix Wilson had one... This group could become more disruptive and force more turnovers. The Vols have only forced fumbles in one game this season, and the LBs get more chances to strip or dislodge the ball than any players on defense. Still with no returning starters the linebackers are further along than many thought they would be.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (91) The secondary didn't post any flashy stats in Saturday's intrastate encounter, neither did it give up anything outside of 79 yards through the air and Memphis' lone score. That was set up by a turnover just outside the Tiger Red Zone, and it occurred late in the game with the Vols up 41-0.... Jonathan Wade (five tackles, one breakup) may be UT's best cover corner since Terry Fair. Safety Jonathan Hefney made a leaping interception, and Antwan Stewart (two solo) is making strides in his move back to corner. Antonio Wardlow, Jarod Parish and Ricardo Kemp saw service and were each credited with a tackle.

OVERALL (93) Although it was against what is likely the weakest offense the Vols will see this season, it's hard to complain about 121 total yards, five first downs and seven points. The defense kept the Tigers' O off the field and helped UT build a 15-minute advantage in time of possession. That enabled the Vols to take charge from the outset of the second half and to pull away down the stretch.

SPECIAL TEAMS (98) This score could be an incomplete, considering the Vols just had to punt one time, which Britton Colquitt hit for 44 yards, and UT returned just one punt for six yards. However, James Wilhoit made both of his field goal attempts from 28 and 49 yards, and he knocked home five extra points. Wilhoit's put the ball an average of five yards deep in the end zone on his kickoffs. He could be in the middle of al All-American season. Memphis was held to only 58 yards in returns, despite the fact Tennessee kicked off eight times in the game.


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