Defense throttles UT run game

The porous run defense that opponents regularly tormented in 2007 was nowhere to be found as Tennessee held its first full-scale scrimmage of the 2008 preseason today at Neyland Stadium.

With No. 1 tailback Arian Foster (leg injury) sitting out as a precautionary measure, Vol rushers found the going tough. Montario Hardesty gained just 21 yards on eight carries. If you throw out one 10-yarder, his other seven rushes netted 11 yards. Freshman Tauren Poole managed just 11 yards on nine attempts and sophomore Lennon Creer got five net yards on nine carries.

All told, the Vol defense limited the top three tailbacks to a paltry 37 net yards on 26 carries, an average of less than 1.5 yards per attempt. Jakouri Williams, performing mostly against third-teamers, led all rushers with 37 yards on seven attempts.

Even so, first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson found some positives in the negative numbers. When asked how he thought his running game performed, he replied "Better. I thought we ran the ball decently today."

Although the stats didn't show it, the coordinator said he thought "up-front we're getting better push. We're getting hats on hats. We're blocking the right guys. I think our backs are making better vertical cuts. I think there's an overall better understanding of what we're trying to do."

Although the run game stalled, Tennessee's passing game flourished. No. 1 quarterback Jonathan Crompton completed 12 of 16 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown but also surrendered an interception. No. 2 QB Nick Stephens was 8 of 11 for 108 yards and redshirt freshman B.J. Coleman 7 of 12 for 66 yards.

In spite of the passing exhibition by Vol QBs, Tennessee struggled mightily to crack the end zone. A Hardesty fumble stopped one drive at the defense's 35-yard line and a Demetrice Morley interception of a tipped Crompton pass near the goal line killed another threat.

"At times I thought we operated extremely well," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "We managed the clock. Guys made some plays on offense. But the objective is to get more points than the other guy, so we've got to not turn it over, not let (defensive) people get their hands on the ball and get the ball into the end zone."

Clawson also found the turnovers that thwarted potential scoring drives distressing.

"The interceptions inside the 20s are the ones that will cause you to lose games," he said. "Those are the ones you lose points on and those are the ones that give up points. Two of our turnovers today were ... the one was inside the 10-yard line and the other was about the 25 or so.

"With our kicking game, we have three points on the board (once UT advances inside the 30-yard line) and we're trying to make it seven. And now (because of the turnover) you walk away with nothing. Those are the ones that coaches pull their hair out on."

Gerald Jones, a surprise starter ahead of Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe, led all receivers with five catches and 64 yards. Briscoe came off the bench to record catches of 13 and 37 yards. Redshirt freshman Tyler Maples caught three balls for 33 yards and a touchdown, albeit against mostly third-team defenders.

Defensive leaders included linebacker Nevin McKenzie (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 sacks), linebacker Ellix Wilson (4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss), tackle Donald Langley (4 tackles, 2 tackles for loss), end Robert Ayers (tackle for loss, sack, fumble forced and fumble recovery), tackle Victor Thomas (2 tackles for loss) and cornerback DeAngelo Willingham (1 tackle for loss, 2 pass breakups).

Clawson conceded that Tennessee's defense played exceptionally well on Saturday and deserves some of the credit for the offense's struggles to sustain drives.

"I'm real impressed with our secondary – the way they react and break on the ball," Clawson said. "That showed up today."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories