UT defense on record pace

When a true freshman works for three weeks on defense, then starts at cornerback, that's an indictment of your secondary.

Brent Vinson might be talented, but he shouldn't be able to wrest a starting job away in such a short period of time.

It says Tennessee is in trouble in the secondary. And it tells you more difficult times are ahead.

Tennessee's cornerbacks got roasted against Alabama. Vinson allowed at least 10 receptions. Marsalous Johnson, UT's most consistent defensive back, had a rough day trying to guard DJ Hall, Alabama's all-time leading receiver who gobbled up 13 passes for 185 yards.

What was UT's game plan going in against Hall?

``We tried several times to double team him, but they found the open guys,'' UT coach Phillip Fulmer said. ``(Quarterback John Parker) Wilson did a great job of finding other receivers.''

By starting two true freshmen in the secondary, Tennessee is limited in the number of things it can do on defense.

``You don't want to ask them to do more than they can do,'' Fulmer said. ``We're green and growing back there.''

How did it get this way? Injuries and academics. Inky Johnson and Antonio Gaines are injured. Demetrice Morley flunked out.

Meanwhile, UT has too many defensive backs that can't play at this level – Jarod Parrish, Sinclair Cannon, Ja'Kouri Williams and Antonio Wardlow.

Also, Tennessee signed two junior college transfers – DeAngelo Willingam and Nevin McKenzie – who have been slow adapting to UT's secondary. McKenzie has been moved to linebacker. Willingham hardly played against Alabama.

And, All-SEC safety Jonathan Hefney is having a mediocre season. All this has led to one of the worst secondaries UT has fielded.

The Vols are last in the SEC in pass-defense efficiency. They made Wilson (32 of 46 for 362 yards) look like Joe Namath. They made Hall look like Jerry Rice.

South Carolina could only score six points against Vanderbilt, which held the Gamecocks to 24 rushing yards while recording six sacks.

You think UT can hold South Carolina to six points? To 26 rushing yards?

Not the way the Vols played at Alabama.

If the defense that shut down Georgia reappears at Neyland Stadium this Saturday night, the Vols will walk away with a rare victory over Steve Spurrier. But you've got to wonder after being disassembled by Alabama if the defense has enough confidence to play at a high level.

``We're going to address that tonight,'' Fulmer said of a rare Sunday night practice designed to put the Alabama defeat behind them, correct mistakes, take Monday off and ``shake it up a little.''

While you can't blame everything on the defense – UT has allowed two special teams touchdowns and three scores when the offense was on the field – the numbers are scary bad.

UT has allowed 226 points. Fulmer has had six teams (1993-94-96-98-99-05) that didn't give up that many points in a season, much less seven games. The most points ever allowed by UT in one season is 295 in 13 games in 2004. This defense is on pace to eclipse that with ease.

Tennessee is surrendering 32.6 points per game. The 1988 defense has the school record for giving up the most points per game (26.0).

Tennessee is giving up 406.7 yards per game – 11th in the SEC. Only UT's 1982 team allowed more than 400 yards per game (415.7). By comparison, the 1996 team allowed a mere 236.5 yards per game.

Tennessee has given up at least 470 yards in three games and less than 335 yards in one game (Georgia).

Plus, the 41 points scored by Alabama was only the fifth time a UT defense gave up that many points in regulation to the Crimson Tide. It was the first time since after the 1989 season.

Considering the way Vanderbilt contained South Carolina's offense, you might expect the Vols' defensive numbers to improve dramatically against the Gamecocks. But that's no sure thing – not the way the secondary is playing.


Tennessee has been outscored 100-37 by its two biggest rivals – Florida (59-20) and Alabama (41-17).

That's got more fans calling for Fulmer's job.

The familiar refrain: ``I like Coach Fulmer but it's time for a change.''

In UT's three losses this season, the Vols have been outscored by an average of 25.7 points with those three opponents ringing up 141 points.


Tim Irwin, the former UT offensive lineman and standout with the Minnesota Vikings, urged Vol fans to show support when the team hosts the Gamecocks.

``We can't desert them in tough times,'' Irwin said on WIVK and WNML's Sunday Sports Soundoff show.

He said fans should rally to help the Vols beat Spurrier.

Irwin also said the Vols lack talent compared to previous seasons. He said pro scouts have indicated UT doesn't have many NFL caliber player, outside of quarterback Erik Ainge.

``There won't be many scouts at Tennessee's workout day,'' Irwin said. ``It will be a ghost town, except those going to see the Erik Ainge show.''


It was obvious that quarterback Erik Ainge missed two of his favorite targets in the second half against Alabama.

In the first half, Ainge was 13 of 15 for 170 yards. In the second half, Ainge was nine of 20 for 73 yards. Josh Briscoe (concussion) didn't play in the second half and Lucas Taylor (turf toe) played just one series in the second half.

Denarious Moore and Gerald Jones got most of the second-half snaps in place of Briscoe and Taylor.

EXTRA POINTS: Fulmer said Kenny O'Neal was supposed to be in front of LaMarcus Coker on the reverse shovel pass so that if it were bobbled, it would be an incomplete pass, not a fumble. … Fulmer said the fact UT is giving up so many points is affecting the way the team plays offense. … Fulmer said UT had six defensive penalties entering the Alabama game but had eight in Tuscaloosa.

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