"That's what we're expected to do," sophomore defensive end Chris Walker said. "We're supposed to get the offense the ball back; that's what we HAVE to do. If we just go out, play football and get them back the ball, everything will be fine."
Senior cornerback DeAngelo Willingham echoed those sentiments, noting that UT's offensive struggles have no impact on the defenders' approach or intensity level.
"We just want to go out there and do our job, play defense," he said. "Our goal is to go out there and play hard from the first snap, so you try to stay on that level the whole game."
You'd think Tennessee's defenders would feel some added pressure, though, knowing that giving up 21 points is likely to doom the 1-3 Vols to defeat. They say they don't. In fact, they say they pay very little attention to the score.
"Not really," Walker said. "But there are some times when we're going to have to make the plays to give them (UT offense) a short field, so they have the best chance to score."
That philosophy comes straight from defensive coordinator John Chavis, who trains his troops to play every snap with the same level of intensity, no matter how well or how poorly the Vol offense might be performing.
"We want to go play and be a football TEAM," Chavis said. "We've done that around here for a long time. There have been games and seasons where the offense has had to really protect the defense because we were young, inexperienced ... maybe not as good as we should be. It's been the other way from time to time, but obviously you've got to play as a team and that's what we're all about."
Ultimately, the coordinator's goal is for Vol defenders to play every snap with the same level of intensity, whether the score is 0-0, 21-0 or 0-21.
"You want to go out and play every play as if it was the most important play in the game," he said. "When you get to that point, you'll play good football as a team."