Grade A Defense

Tennessee's offense bailed out the defense against Air Force and Georgia. Against Alabama the Vols' Stop Troops returned the favor, keeping UT in contention in the SEC East and alive in the BCS selection process.

Outside of the first half against California, this was probably the best stretch of defense the Vols have played this season and clearly the most consistent and sustained effort.

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 (6.5)

DEFENSIVE LINE (95) Tennessee's D-line has, at times, had problems stopping the run and pressuring the passer this season, but UT's trench warriors stepped up their game against Alabama. The Vols held a quality Bama ground attack, led by power back Kenneth Darby, to 52 yards and a paltry 1.8 yards per carry. Although limited by a hip pointer injury, Turk McBride gave the Vols a solid effort inside and recorded three stops. Jonathan Mapu, who looks like he might come on down the stretch, had a couple of solo stops and shut down his gaps. Matt McGlothin (two assists) is a battler who gets the most out of his ability as long as he maintains proper leverage. The biggest improvement came from the defensive ends Xavier Mitchell (four solo stops with a sack) and Antonio Reynolds (four solo stops with two sacks). This tandem also kept containment and funneled everything between the tackles where the linebackers could clean up. Alabama native Wes Brown had two stops including one for a loss. UT still needs to develop some depth at the tackles. Demonte Bolden and Dan Williams are the most likely candidates to provide minutes off the bench, but neither has progressed to the point that the coaches trust them in close games.

LINEBACKERS (93) Jerod Mayo came back with a vengeance from an off week that allowed him to heal several nagging injuries which had slowed him in recent games. Mayo finished with a team-high 12 tackles (seven solo) and added an eight-yard sack along with two other stops behind the line of scrimmage that netted UT 17 total yards. Middle linebacker Marvin Mitchell (five tackles and a QB hurry) remained on course toward a career best campaign. Ryan Karl had four tackles and he broke up a pass. The Vols starters played a lot of minutes. They need more minutes from freshmen Rico McCoy, Dorian Davis or Adam Myers-White.

SECONDARY (90) The secondary held Alabama QB John Parker Wilson to 13 of 29 passing for 158 yards, but had problems containing D.J. Hall (seven catches for 107 yards) and again failed to come up with any INTs despite the fact Bama's freshman signal caller was getting a lot of heat. On the positive side, Tennessee's DBs react well to the run and are very punishing tacklers. Additionally, they rarely get beat deep. The pass interference call on Hall's 40-yard catch looked like an outstanding play by bother defender and receiver. Demetrice Morley had five tackles, while Jonathan Hefney and Antwan Stewart each had three solos and an assist. Jonathan Wade, UT's best DB in press coverage, finished with two tackles and two pass breakups.

OVERALL (93) I have no reservations about assigning this mark to UT's defense. Some will argue that Bama doesn't have a great offense, and while that may be true the Crimson Tide moved the ball much better and scored more points in road defeats against ranked Arkansas and Florida. This game was won in the trenches where the Vols clearly got the better of Bama's young, but very talented, O-line. The most revealing stat is Alabama's 3 of 15 success rate on third down conversions in the game.

KICKING GAME (92) One of the best overall efforts by UT's special teams. The Vols surrendered just 30 yards on kick and punt returns while Hefney had six punt returns for 106 yards. LaMarcus Coker added another 66 yards on four kick returns. That's a 142-yard advantage in kick/punt returns for the Vols, which helped negate the Tide's plus-3 edge in turnovers. Britton Colquitt averaged 45.3 yards per punt (one 36-yarder was deflected) and James Wilhoit hit 3 of 4 field goal attempts, including a 47-yard attempt. He had a near miss from 46 yards out.


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