Determined defense

As stingy as Tennessee's 2008 defense has been, it would've been far more effective had it gotten any help at all from the offense and special teams.

Of the 19 touchdowns the Vols allowed through the first 11 games, the defense was on the field for only 14 of them. Two TDs were scored on interception returns, one on a fumble return, one on a punt return and one on a blocked-punt return.

If you deduct those 35 points from the 191 Tennessee has allowed to date, the opponents' scoring average drops from 17.4 to 14.2.

That doesn't begin to tell the story, however. One opposing touchdown came on a four-yard drive following a Vol fumble. Two opposing field goals came off of possessions that gained zero yards after UT lost fumbles deep in its own territory.

If you deduct those 13 points, the opponents' scoring average dips from 14.2 to 13.0 points per game – a figure that would rank John Chavis' 2008 defense seventh nationally.

Even with all of the offensive and special team's mishaps figured into the equation, however, the Vol defense has been statistically stellar. It ranks No. 9 nationally against the pass (166.2 yards per game), No. 14 against the run (103.7 yards per game), No. 6 in total defense (269.9), No. 13 in pass efficiency defense (101.6 rating) and No. 17 in scoring defense (17.4).

In addition to giving away points with turnovers, Tennessee's anemic offense hurt the defense in other ways. Because the Vols almost never held a lead that put opponents in catch-up mode, the defense rarely got to pin back its ears and rely on an all-out pass rush. And, because the Vols struggled mightily merely to pick up first downs, the stop unit routinely found itself protecting a short field while battling fatigue. Knowing they had to play air-tight defense for UT to have a chance to win each week had to be a strain on the defenders, as well.

When you consider how little help Tennessee defenders got from the offense and special teams, you have to appreciate the yeoman's work they performed through the first 11 games.

"It's amazing," head coach Phillip Fulmer said this week. "It's absolutely amazing. They've been put in some really tough spots ... points put on the board that they didn't give up. I guess we didn't all get dumb, right?"

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