''I said at the beginning of the year that I thought this could be the best secondary we've had and, as it turned out, it has been,'' Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer said recently.
Fulmer added that UT has been able to use a lot of secondary combinations this year because of ''Julian Battle's and Mark Jones' flexibility and Gibril Wilson's emergence. Even though we lost Rashad Baker (to a Game 10 knee injury), we didn't fall off a lot because of flexibility and depth there. It's been a very productive group.''
Baker, incidentally, could see action against Maryland.
Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis also offered a salute to UT's crusty defensive backs.
''I think they've played well all year,'' he said. ''The thing that was truly amazing to me was early in the year they did it without having a strong pass rush. We were very average rushing the passer early in the season and we're still not a very good blitz team ... haven't been all year long. What those guys have been able to accomplish has been amazing.''
Even with little help from the pass rush, Tennessee's secondary limited opponents to a 48.2-percent completion rate (159 of 330) and a mere 159.2 passing yards per game. The Vols allowed just nine passing touchdowns and limited opposing QBs to a mere 98.55 pass-efficiency rating. The only negative was that UT recorded just 12 interceptions, two of which belonged to linebacker Keyon Whiteside.
''We probably would've liked to have more balls intercepted,'' Fulmer noted, ''but people didn't try to go down the field on us very much.''