Chavis hopes for '95 replay

As John Chavis watched Florida torch Tennessee for 59 points in Game 3 of 2007 last Saturday at The Swamp, he probably experienced a feeling of déjà vu.

Chavis, then in his first year as Vol defensive coordinator, watched Florida torch Tennessee for 62 points in Game 3 of 1995 at The Swamp.

The veteran Vol aide can only hope his '07 stop unit bounces back from disaster the way his '95 defense did. That group rallied to accomplish all of the following:

- Beat Mississippi State 52-14 one week later.

- Blanked Oklahoma State 31-0 in Game 5 and Southern Miss 42-0 in Game 9.

- Allowed just 132 points over the final nine games, an average of 14.7 per game.

- Shut down No. 4 Ohio State 20-14 in the Citrus Bowl, effectively neutralizing Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Eddie George and All-America receiver Terry Glenn.

Can the 2007 Vol defense make a similarly dramatic turnaround?

"I certainly think we have the resolve as a staff; I know that," Chavis said. "And I think our players do, too."

Since leaving the Swamp on Saturday evening, the Vol aide has seen his troops' humiliation give way to determination.

"Those kids are hurt. They're disappointed," he said. "But as long as they keep the attitude they've had, I think we can get better. Can we be as good as the '95 group that finished that season? I don't know. But I do know this: We CAN be better and we WILL be better."

Certainly, there is plenty of room to be better. Tennessee's first three 2007 opponents have scored 123 points, an average of 41.0 per game. If you discount the 14 points that scored on punt returns and 14 more that scored on fumble returns, however, the total drops to 95 and the average drops to 31.7. Those are still ugly numbers but not quite as hideous as before.

Phillip Fulmer was in his third year as Tennessee's head coach when the Vols suffered their 1995 meltdown in the Swamp. He hasn't forgotten how the stop unit picked up the pieces and the pace following that defensive debacle. He's hoping the 2007 unit can show similar resilience.

"I do see good potential for this defensive team," he said. "It depends on how much we continue to mature from an assignment standpoint and not giving up plays."

Although Tennessee has a fairly veteran defense, it has a very young secondary. Sophomore Marsalous Johnson and freshman Eric Berry are first-year starters at cornerback. Both were burned for big plays by Florida, so Fulmer wants to scale back the mental workload on them a bit.

"We are in the process of making sure we're not giving them more than they can handle from the mental standpoint," the head man said. "In this day and age – with so many formations and so many adjustments that need to be made – we don't want to get ourselves in bad positions.

"We're not going back to the basics necessarily but we're going back to making sure we're not doing too much."

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