Defense Flunks

All the doubts about Tennessee's defense came to roost Saturday against California, as the Vols flew into Berkeley and laid a rotten egg whose stench hangs over Big Orange Country like the heavy fog blankets San Francisco Bay.

First the good news: Tennessee's defense surrendered 31 points, which is the same given up by the Golden Bears. However Cal's D did score a touchdown on an Eric Ainge fumble in the first possession of the game to capture an early advantage. California also had an electrifying punt return by DeShaun Jackson for a score. A fumble at the goal line in the fourth quarter cost Cal another score to prevent the Bears from hitting the half-a-hundred mark.

The biggest difference in the game was on the ground where Cal gained 247 yards in 37 attempts compared to UT's 128 yards in 27 carries. Cal averaged 6.2 yards per run to the Vols 4.1 yards. It was the latest example of a disturbing decline of rush defense by a team that was among the best in the SEC and one of the top in the nation under Chavis for over a decade.

There were plenty of other problems with the defense, particularly its poor tackling. In fact, the tree huggers outside of Memorial Stadium made better contact than UT's defenders inside the stadium. With that established we forge on with the dirty business of grading Tennessee's defensive performance.

Here's the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-California 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. Each score will be followed by a brief comment. Further analysis to follow.

LINEBACKERS (60) This was the Vols strongest unit and it probably deserves a better score. However when the D-line you're backing doesn't do its job and the safeties behind you can't lend consistent run support, the linebackers aren't going to look good. Rico McCoy made the best hit of the night for the Vols. Jerod Mayo got the only QB hurry of the night for UT and he had a game high 10 tackles (9 solo). Karl Ryan only had one solo tackle and zero big plays.

SECONDARY (51) The emergence of freshman Eric Berry (3 solo, 4 assists), albeit expected, was encouraging. He is an elite talent that only lacks experience. Not only did UT's DBs have no INTs they had zero pass breakups. They also allowed a generous 8.2 yards per pass attempt and 12.7 yards per completion. Senior safety Jonathan Hefney (8 stops) had his good and bad moments. Otherwise, the corners were soft and the safeties were the last line of pretense.

DEFENSIVE LINE (44) This is where it all begins so it's not surprising the D-line was the worst of the worse. Demonte Bolden had flashes of becoming a disrupter inside, but his height makes it more difficult to maintain good leverage and his underachievement the last four years (one year of prep school) raises questions about his motor and ceiling. J.T.. Mapu was disappointing. Dan Williams is improved. Looking for UT defensive ends on the sack and stop charts is like looking for the Blowfish, minus Hootie, on the record charts. One question: If you get zero pressure on the passer shouldn't be able to at least slow down the run.

OVERALL (49) There wasn't much to like and a lot to worry about. No doubt California is loaded with skill players and outstanding speed, but rarely has UT ever looked this slow and passive. The lack of game ready talent at tackle is alarming. Tennessee's best hope is that the D suffered from first game shock or that Cal is just really that good. Otherwise — minus a decent stretch in the second half— this was a most disappointing performance.

SPECIAL TEAMS (70) There was the good, the bad and the ugly from Arian Foster's 68-yard kickoff return that set up a Vol TD to woefully inadequate kickoffs to flying tackles that came up with nothing but air. Daniel Lincoln nailed a 41-yard field goal, but for the most part Dustin Colquitt didn't get the hang time or accuracy he needed on his punts.

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