However a well executed scoring drive to open the second half bought the black-and-gold more time, but, ultimately, not enough. Eventually Tennessee ran their opponent down like a cheetah overtaking a wildebeest on the savanna.
It's another positive sign of a defense evolving. What we don't know is if the Vols could have accomplished the same thing against bigger game in different venue?
Here are the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt 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.
LINEBACKER (94) The trio of Jerod Mayo (7 tackles, 8 assists), Rico McCoy (4/7) and Ryan Karl (3/3) have been outstanding on a defense that isn't. Combined for 32 tackles including 3.5 behind the line Saturday. Set the tone for high-energy comeback by clamping down after UT's touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, and keeping the ‘Dores off the scoreboard. Mayo and McCoy are both excellent strikers with superior speed and solid recognition skills. Karl has a nose for the football and an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. A running back and DB in high school, he is also fast and athletic. Well rounded players who have been front and center for 11 weeks now and show no signs of slowing down.
SECONDARY (86) There were highs and lows here as UT only gave up 138 yards passing, but three of Vandy's 14 completions went for touchdowns. There was some sloppy tackling early as the ‘Dores got their running game going, but the DBs also laid some wood on pass catchers. The hit by Eric Berry (5 solos) that put Bennett out of action was a clean, hard shot on an airborne target. Jonathan Hefney was No. 3 on UT's tackle chart with 8 (3 solo). DeAngelo Willingham (4 stops) and Brent Vinson are learning the ropes as D-I corners, but their size and strength add an imposing dimension to the defense. There were a few blown coverages that could be exploited by a better passer. Expect UT to use more press coverage and attack the pocket against Kentucky. It helps simplify assignments and plays to the corners strengths.
DEFENSIVE LINE (81) Dan Williams had his second consecutive standout game with six tackles (4 solo), an indication he has broken through that tempo barrier that holds many young linemen back. It was also a good farewell appearance for J.T. Mapu as he came through with 5 stops (4 assists). Demonte Bolden wasn't credited with any tackles but he did get some penetration up front that opened opportunities for his teammates. Ends lost containment at times and there were no sacks of any kind. Xavier Mitchell (4 tackles) was active and disruptive. Wes Brown has stepped up his play and will earn more playing time.
OVERALL (85) Vanderbilt's offense isn't explosive but it is efficient. The Vols got pushed around too much early and seemed a little slow to adjust. However the defense got placed in some bad field positions. Kept Vandy from capitalizing on long kick return in final minute while overcoming a pass interference penalty that gave the ‘Dores a new set of downs.
SPECIAL TEAMS (90) Big day for true freshman Dennis Rogan who had 146 return yards, and looks like an exciting return specialist. His 45-yard punt return in the fourth quarter was critical. He also had a 41-yard kickoff return that set up another scoring opportunity. Coverage was good until D.J. Moore's big 55-yard kick return put Vandy in business in Tennessee territory. Daniel Lincoln knocked home the game-winner from 33 yards and hit 2 of 3 overall. However he had an extra point blocked (his first miss of the season) and hit the upright on a 41-yard missed attempt.