However it was far from perfect. UT still surrendered far too many yards (464) and too many plays (80). The Tigers averaged 4.5 yards per run, 7.6 yards per pass and 5.8 yards per play. They converted 10 of 20 third down opportunities and three of four red zone chances.
The Vols kept things close by being better disciplined and more aggressive. As a result they didn't incur a single penalty and threw the Tigers for 47 yards in losses. Conversely LSU was penalized 44 yards and stopped UT for only minus three yards.
Tennessee's speed on defense and the strikers it has in the secondary and at linebacker have exacted a toll on opposing offenses in recent weeks. Several key LSU offensive players were knocked out of Saturday's game with injuries or forced to seek medical attention.
The fact the Vols played primarily the same personnel at linebacker and in the secondary all season is testimony to the condition this team is in.
The identity the Vols have established for themselves on defense should carry over to next season when the players will be more experienced, the depth improved and the overall talent better in the D-line.
Here are the top to bottom defensive ratings for the Tennessee-LSU 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 (95) Jerod Mayo is the man in the middle and the heart of UT's defense. He led the Vols with 15 tackles (8 solo), including one for a six-yard loss and a quarterback hurry. The second half of the M&M LB duo, Rico McCoy, added 8 stops (5 solo) including a tackle for a 10 yard loss. Ryan Karl had only 2 tackles and a QB hurry. Ellix Wilson has contributed some quality minutes off the bench.
DEFENSIVE LINE (89) This was one of the D-lines best games this season and the best game of Xavier Mitchell's career. He finished with 8 tackles with two behind the line for 16 yards in losses. He also broke up a pass and had a QB hurry. Walter Fisher followed suit with five tackles inside. Demonte Bolden added four stops. The line was more active and the ends closed well from the edge.
SECONDARY (85) UT's DBs surrendered too many big plays with five passes covering better than 20 yards, including a 48-yard completion to Brandon LaFell. There were more missed tackles than we've seen since early in the season when the practice of was commonplace. Nevertheless the safeties got plenty of opportunities providing run support. Jonathan Hefney had 10 tackles (6 solo) and Eric Berry finished with seven in addition to accounting for both of UT's turnovers with a fumble recovery and an INT. Certainly deserves consideration for freshmen of the year in the SEC. Dennis Rogan relieved DeAngelo Willingham at corner and enhanced coverage. Nevin McKenzie had three solo stops, forced a fumble and recorded the Vols only sack.
OVERALL (89) An impressive showing by a group that has managed to maintain its edge through adversity and scrutiny. The elements are there for an outstanding defense in the near future. A powerful, quick, agile inside force that command double-team attention is the missing ingredient.
SPECIAL TEAMS (81) Not a great day for Tennessee's punter or place kicker. Britton Colquitt averaged 36 yards on five punts but put three out inside the 20. Daniel Lincoln misfired on both of his attempts including a 30-yard chippy and a 51-yard attempt that had plenty of distance but was wide right. The highlight for the Vols was Lennon Creer's 50-yard kick return. Coverage was good and there were no penalties.