However Tennessee's defenders were pushed back far too often against the run as the Ragin' Cajuns reeled off 77 plays and 364 yards. For the most part the Vols limited the big plays and only allowed 130 yards through the air. It would be impressive if this wasn't the worst opponent the Vols have faced since Louisiana Tech in 2000.
To put this performance into perspective it has to be viewed through a three-game window along with Alabama and South Carolina. That's the best barometer to plot progress and predict how a team might perform in its next contest. Alabama had 27 first downs and 510 total yards, South Carolina 31 had first downs and 501 total yards. Add Louisiana-Lafayette's totals in those categories and you get picture of a defense that has given up 83 first downs and 1,375 yards in its last three games. In 1952 the Vols gave up 94 first downs and 1667 yards over 10 games.
To this point of the season Tennessee has given up a collective 3,712 yards and are on pace to eclipse the 1982 season in which the Vols allowed a school record 4,573 total yards. The Vols rank No. 84 nationally in pass defense, No. 74 in rush defense, No. 75 in scoring defense and No. 80 in total defense. UT ranks 31 places behind Arkansas State in total defense among D-I schools.
Over the next three games UT faces the SEC's top two offenses in Arkansas and Kentucky. As unpleasant as that thought may be, in truth, Tennessee could improve defensively and still allow more yards in the next three games than it did in the prior three.
Here are the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Louisiana-Lafayette 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 (82) Tennessee's top four tacklers were all linebackers led by Ryan Karl with 4 stops, 4 assists, 2 stops for losses and a QB hurry. He was followed by Rico McCoy (1/7), Jerod Mayo (4/3) and Ellix Wilson (5/1). Wilson also team with Victor Thomas for a sack. Adam Myers-White returned from injury to record 4 stops. True freshman Chris Walker contributed 3 tackles off the bench. On the season UT's top three tackles are McCoy 72, Mayo 69 and Karl 57. Perhaps the best part of this game was that the starting linebackers got some rest and the reserves picked up some playing time.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (78) There were some missed tackles but generally the secondary did a good job limiting the passing game and preventing big plays. Eric Berry and true freshman Dennis Rogan each had 4 tackles and 2 assists. Jonathan Hefney recorded 1 solo, 5 assists, and Nevin McKenzie finished with 1 tackle and 3 assists. Jarod Parrish added another interception and three tackles.
DEFENSIVE LINE (73) Much of the responsibility for the Louisiana-Lafayette's success on the ground goes to the D-line particularly the tackles. Starters Dan Williams and J.T. Mapu had a combined 3 assists from their tackle post, while Walter Fisher came off the bench to record 5 assists. No unassisted tackles were recorded by UT's tackles and there wasn't much push up the middle. The ends fared better led by Reynolds' interception return and a sack for minus 10. Robert Ayers and Xavier Mitchell each contributed 4 tackles and an assist. True freshman and future standout Ben Martin added a couple of assists including one for a 3-yard loss.
OVERALL (77) Surrendering only one touchdown and not allowing the Ragin' Cajuns inside the red zone but once are the positives, but the absence of a strong run defense against a weak opponent doesn't bode well for the near future. This was a team UT should have been able to get into downhill mode against, but didn't.
SPECIAL TEAMS (92) A very good day for UT's special teams, led by Antonio Wardlow's TD return of a blocked punt. Rogan returned a klckoff 25 yards and McKenzie brought back a punt for 16 yards. Britton Colquitt punted once for 46 yards and averaged 64.7 yards on eight kickoffs. Chad Cunningham boomed his only kickoff 75 yards for a touchback. The Vols held Louisiana-Lafayette to 165 yards on nine kick returns with a long of 29 yards and stopped the only punt return for a 3-yard loss. Daniel Lincoln, who ranks No. 12 nationally with 1.7 field goals per game and 16 of 18, nailed his only field goal attempt — a 24-yarder.