When Gaines went down midway in the second quarter, Tennessee moved true freshman Eric Berry from strong safety back to cornerback – his original position – and inserted Jarod Parrish – the game one starter – at strong safety.
Secondary coach Larry Slade gave the secondary a passing grade in the second-half of the 20-point victory over Southern Miss. But with one starter down, he knows some Vols must step up.
UT also needs Parrish to step up. He didn't play well against California and didn't start against Southern Miss.
``Jarod looked tight and afraid to make a mistake almost, which causes you to make mistakes, in the first game,'' Fulmer said. ``He looked much more fluid and athletic in this (second) ballgame, and that's what he's got to continue to do. He's skilled enough to be an adequate safety.''
In UT's scheme, corner is easier to play, Fulmer said. And he thinks Berry will match up OK against Florida's outstanding receivers – next to Cal probably the best wideouts the Vols will play against all season.
``Eric will match up athletically with most anybody,'' Fulmer said. ``He's a tough-minded young man. He'll do OK.''
Who backs up Berry at corner?
Fulmer isn't sure.
One person who has played well in the secondary is Ricardo Kemp.
``Ricardo has played consistently,'' Fulmer said. ``He has a role in our nickel package. He's a young man who continues to make progress.''
Slade was more complimentary of Kemp, a sophomore who has played several positions in his brief UT career.
``He's a gritty, hard-nosed little guy,'' Slade said. ``He does a real good job in the Mustang (five defensive backs) package. He shows up. He makes plays.''
Safety Nevin McKenzie made a play, too, sacking USM's quarterback and causing a fumble which turned into a safety. He did so by blitzing from the left corner.
``That's his strong suit,'' Slade said of McKenzie. ``That's something we're going to take advantage of, getting him out there in a blitzing type situation. I thought it was great to give him that opportunity.''
KICK COVERAGE IMPROVED
Tennessee's kick coverage started out weak against USM, but improved as the game progressed.
The Eagles' starting position in the first half after kickoffs was the 31, 47 and 41. In the second half, it was the 25, 26 and 18. USM returned one second-half kickoff to its 45 but lost a fumble.
Fulmer said UT kicked it better and covered better, except for a ``horrible'' squib and a short kick that was fielded just inside the 20-yard line.
VOLS MOUNT A PASS RUSH
After going five games with just one sack, the Vols recorded two against Southern Miss and had at least seven hurries.
Junior defensive end Robert Ayers, silent much of his career, had one sack and two quarterback hurries.
``Robert Ayers played his best game since he's been here,'' Fulmer said. ``That was good to see. We moved him inside in the nickel package and he got a push and a pass rush. Hopefully, he can build on that and become the player we've been working toward him being.''
USM mIGHT HELP UT PREPARE FOR TEBOW
``Yes, it will help us, I hope,'' Fulmer said. ``A couple of schemes they (Eagles) ran, like the dive option, are like what Florida runs. We should have a little carryover from working on it in practice (last week).''
Fulmer was asked how he would defend Tebow by a Florida media member.
``You want me to just send you my game plan?'' Fulmer said. ``It makes it hard when a guy is that talented. If you rush the passer and force him to run, that can be a worse fate, and he can get it out to the receivers they have. That's tough
``They're a very good offensive team. As good as they were last year, I'm sure they're better this year because of Tebow's ability to do both (run and pass).''
FULMER WOULD PREFER PLAYING FLORIDA LATER
Fulmer reiterated that he would prefer to play Florida later in the season, but he said the SEC sets up the schedule.
The Vols have played Florida in September – usually the first SEC game – since expansion in 1992.
``We used to talk about playing it later in the year,'' Fulmer said. ``Florida looked at moving it but didn't want to play Florida State back to back (in November) and Florida State wouldn't move it. That's been the hangup.
``To me, it's one of those great climatic games that lead up to the championship, if we're doing well and they are doing well. It would be exciting. But that's not the way it is. It is what it is.''