D Destroys UGA Dreams

More than any major victory in recent memory Saturday's defeat of Georgia between the hedges belonged to UT's hard-nosed defense. No this wasn't a Bulldog offensive juggernaut but it was an athletic team with a solid O-line and play-makers aplenty.

Here's the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Georgia 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 (7.5)

DEFENSIVE BACKS (98) The secondary got help from the front seven, which never allowed Tereshinski to get comfortable in the pocket, but the DBs swarmed the ball all night, hit like linebackers and picked off three second half passes to turn the contest around. Jonathan Wade may have had his best game ever as he led UT in tackles with nine (seven solo), two for minus yardage and he intercepted a pass. Antwan Stewart grab a deflected pass to put Tennessee in business at the Bulldogs' 19, and Jonathan Hefney (six stops, five solo) had the third INT. Demetrice Morley was an imposing physical presence who covered a lot of ground and posted seven solo tackles, including two for losses. The Vols top three tacklers against UGA were all DBs. Several of the passes caught by Georgia receivers were well covered. This unit has stayed the course this season despite losing two of its top three corners (Rashaun Fellows and Inky Johnson). Larry Slade deserves a lot of credit for having them in prime form for this crucial contest and coming away with the season's highest mark for a unit.

LINEBACKERS (87) It wasn't a big night in terms of numbers for the linebackers but they were active, disruptive and fundamentally sound. Middle linebacker Marvin Mitchell got UT's only sack of the night and forced a fourth quarter fumble (recovered by LB Jerod Mayo) that sealed the Vols' victory. Ryan Karl handed the Dogs a seven-yard loss on a superb strike. Redshirt freshmen Rico McCoy and Adam Myers-White saw service and seem to be making strides, while true freshman Dorian Davis contributed a big hit on kick coverage. Georgia fullback Brannan Southerland picked up 38 yards on three receptions which hurt the Vols in the first half. They also failed to fill run gaps on a couple of plays. There's room, and potential, for improvement.

DEFENSIVE LINE (85) Attrition is taking it's toll at the tackle position. Top tackle Turk McBride (hip pointer) is the latest casualty. It's the D-line's credit they were able to hang tough and shut down the run in the second half without McBride, who had two tackles Saturday before being forced to the sidelines. Walter Fisher pulled some serious service in the trenches and proved he has the ability to become a quality tackle. The ends lost containment a couple of times and UT gave up some yardage between the tackles, but overall it was another solid performance from a group that has managed to be a viable asset even with the loss of Justin Harrell. Antonio Reynolds had perhaps his best game with four solo tackles and Xavier Mitchell was able to apply pressure from the edge.

OVERALL (91) As a reference point: Georgia managed only two touchdowns against both Colorado and Ole Miss. Tennessee's defense also allowed two TDs, both in the first half, along with a field goal. There were too many yards (145) surrendered on the ground and the 5.4 per carry average is worrisome. However the second half performance is dramatic enough to place this grade in the championship category. John Chavis' stop troops answered the second half bell and scored a big-time knockout. Another remarkable rebound in a season of righteous recovery.

SPECIAL TEAMS (70) It was the best of times. It was the worst of times for UT's special teams. The Vols surrendered a punt and kickoff return for touchdowns. However they also blocked a punt in the end zone for a score and did a good job of pinning the Dogs near their own goal line on three other kickoffs. Britton Colquitt averaged 48 yards on two punts. James Wilhoit nailed a 37-yard field goal, but also missed an extra point. LaMarcus Coker had a 40-yard kick return. Bottom Line: It was a mixed bag, but everything looks better in the light of a triumph over a top 10 adversary — on the road and ESPN prime time. This will play well on the recruiting trail, and the Vols are challenging the Dogs for several major Georgia gridiron prospects.


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