In the process, they provided hope that Tennessee may yet be transformed into a team nobody wants to face in December and beyond. They also restore a sense of pride in a tradition of tough, athletic defenses that had been tarnished through the season's first nine games.
Here are the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Arkansas 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.
SECONDARY (97) Easily the highest score posted by a much maligned unit that appeared to come of age against Arkansas. No the Razorbacks didn't have a great passing attack but neither have some of the other opponents that lit UT up this season. Additionally, the safeties were called upon to fill like linebackers for much of the game and did so with distinction. Hard hitting Jonathan Hefney looked like his old self recording eight tackles. Eric Berry, who will be a freshman All-American, added six stops and intercepted two more passes which he returned for 98 yards. Tennessee's size and speed on the corners with DeAngelo Willingham and Brent Vinson enabled the Vols to play single coverage while still holding Marcus Monk to three catches for 26 yards.
LINEBACKERS (95) This group has played well all season did so again against the Hogs as three of UT's top five tacklers were linebackers. Jerod Mayo had a team-high nine tackles although seven were assists. He also intercepted a pass and returned it for a 34-yard touchdown. Rico was the real McCoy with six stops and his infectious high-energy play. Ellix Wilson had four tackles (3 solo, 1 assist) off the bench. Dorian Davis looks to be a Mike with bite, and should push for major minutes next fall.
D-LINE (94) Given the quality of Arkansas' offensive line and running backs this was the defensive lines best showing of the season. Dan "Big Bear" Williams had five tackles including a sack for a 15-yard loss, and is becoming a stalwart in the interior. The defensive ends were very active and did an excellent job of closing down on the run off tackle. Xavier Mitchell had three stops highlighted by a sack. Antonio Reynolds had three tackles while Robert Ayers and Wes Brown had two each. Tennessee's quickness and depth at the end positions was one of the keys to UT's win.
OVERALL (96) Tennessee held Arkansas to 46 total yards in the first half and 289 for the game. Most of those came in the fourth quarter long after the issue was settled. The longest run allowed was 20 yards and the Razorbacks just managed 3.5 yards per carry. The Vols forced three turnovers and prevented Arkansas from putting together any time consuming drive. The one touchdown allowed was a season best for the Vols. Most significantly Tennessee set a physical tone from the very beginning of the game and never gave their opponent anything to feel good about. That's exactly what Arkansas' defense did to UT last year. This was a revenge victory and a statement game.
SPECIAL TEAMS (88) Tennessee gave up one long (36 yards) kickoff return to the ever dangerous Felix Jones before knocking him out of action. Dennis Rogan more than doubled that effort with a 78-yard KO return and added 32 yards on four punt returns with a long of 15. He also made a couple of tackles in coverage and is rapidly becoming the type of threat the Vols can count on. Lennon Creer added a nifty 32 yard kick return Daniel Lincoln hit 2 of 3 field goals, missing a 41-yard attempt. Britton Colquitt capably handled both kickoff and punting duties.