Considering that the front four was nothing special last fall – even WITH all of those guys available for duty – the D-line seemed to be a potential disaster area.
Based on Game 1, however, the guys across the front four could be a team strength, not a team weakness.
"They did a really good job," defensive coordinator John Chavis said after reviewing the UT-UCLA game film. "I thought there were times in the second half when our pass rush needed to be better and could've been better but, overall, I thought they did a really fine job.
"They did a great job playing the run. That's obvious (31 rushes, 29 net yards). And they really moved the pocket around, made it tough on the quarterback in the first half."
The stats underscore the idea that Tennessee's defensive linemen played quite well vs. UCLA. Starting tackles Demonte Bolden and Dan Williams had 4 tackles and 2 tackles for loss apiece. Backup tackle Walter Fisher chipped in 3 stops. Starting ends Wes Brown and Robert Ayers registered 2 tackles each, with one of Brown's stops being of the minus-yardage variety. Sophomore end Chris Walker contributed 1 stop off the bench.
Moreover, Bolden made what could've been the biggest play of the game on the first snap of the fourth quarter. The Vol tackle blasted UCLA running back Raymond Carter for a three-yard loss – and an apparent safety that would've given Tennessee a 16-10 lead – but officials ruled Carter had wedged the ball onto the playing field. The Bruins punted two plays later, and the Vols wound up getting zero points out of their ensuing possession.
The only negative for Tennessee's line was that it failed to register a sack. Otherwise, head coach Phillip Fulmer was thoroughly pleased with the Game 1 performance of a front four that was highly suspect entering the opener.
"It was very encouraging," he said. "We didn't get enough sacks because they (Bruins) threw the ball quick most of the time and moved the pocket on us quite a bit. I thought they played real well against the run, were active in the pass rush – batted a ball or two. Overall, they did good."
WHERE WAS THE REAL McCOY?
After recording 106 tackles in 13 games last fall, weakside linebacker Rico McCoy was supposed to be the cornerstone of Tennessee's defense this fall. He seemed to be missing in action against UCLA, however, recording just 3 tackles and 1 assist.
Still, the Vols' defensive coordinator insists McCoy's performance was a lot better than the stat sheet might suggest.
"I think he played very good," Chavis said. "Rico played very physical and made a lot of plays. The stats in the box were not anywhere near accurate to what he did. He was very productive and played very well."
The coordinator said his review of the game tape showed McCoy making nine tackles.