Obviously, intra-squad scrimmages can be deceiving. That's why it's difficult to determine whether Tennessee's offense is clicking this preseason or Tennessee's defense is struggling a bit.
This much is for sure: Either the Vols' second-team runners are exceptional or the Vols' second-team defenders have a ways to go. In one seven-play stretch during Saturday night's scrimmage the No. 2 defense allowed back-to-back runs of 12 and 23 yards by Lennon Creer, then a 17-yard scoring burst by fellow freshman Daryl Vereen.
As a group, UT's top four rushers picked up 175 net yards on 37 carries, an average of 4.73 yards per pop. Head coach Phillip Fulmer and defensive coordinator John Chavis believe that was more an indictment of the defenses than a credit to the offenses.
"We were sloppy with our tackling," Chavis said. "We didn't tackle well, and we've got to get better. We need to have a sense of urgency. We've got two weeks (till Game 1 at California) and a lot of work to do."
Fulmer also was disappointed with Tennessee's tackling.
"We missed way too many tackles, particularly in the secondary," the head man said. "You don't get long runs like that without missed tackles and without things happening that shouldn't happen. That's an area that we'll definitely look at and see if there's anything we can do to make it better."
In addition to some nice runs, Tennessee's first- and second-team defenses gave up several sizable gains on pass plays. Freshman Denarius Moore had a 27-yard touchdown catch against the No. 1 defense and a 21-yard reception against the No. 2 defense. Austin Rogers burned the first-team secondary for grabs of 26 and 21 yards. No. 3 tight end Jeff Cottam had an 18-yard reception against second-teamers and reserve wideout Josh Briscoe registered a 17-yard grab against the first-teamers.
Erik Ainge (14 of 25 for 146 yards) and Jonathan Crompton (10 of 15 for 77 yards) combined to complete 24 of 40 passes for 223 yards. The numbers would've been much higher if not for a bunch of dropped balls. Still, Chavis was philosophical about the play of his pass defense.
"When you're running 'em in and out – giving as many reps to young people in the backfield as we are right now – I'd rather have those mistakes now than two weeks from now," he said.
"We gave up some plays. Some of them were mistakes and some of them were (cases where) we just got beat by better athletes. That's going to happen from time to time."