Changes on the way: Sunseri could move to box to help record-breaking bad defense
By Grant Ramey | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee has done just about everything to try to solve its defensive problem.
Coaches have admittedly simplified Sal Sunseri’s 3-4 scheme as much as possible, trying to get by on the basic fundamentals of the scheme. They’ve changed personnel on the back end, shuffling through defensive backs like true freshmen LaDarrell McNeil and Daniel Gray, trying to get the best four on the field.
But still the problem — stopping the opponent — alludes the Vols.
The newest change today may be Sunseri moving from the sidelines to the coaches’ booth inside the Neyland Stadium press box.
The first-year defensive coordinator wouldn’t confirm the move this week after head coach Derek Dooley discussed it as a possibility in his weekly Monday press conference.
“You will have to wait until Saturday to find that out,” Sunseri, who spent the last seven seasons as a defensive assistant coaching from the box, said Wednesday.
“To me, I like being up there because you are away from everything. I think you get better eyes up there and can see more of what is going on. The only thing you miss is being around those kids and pushing them and all that.”
At this point, no change can hurt.
Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 SEC) is coming off a 55-48 win over Troy where the Vols allowed a school-record 721 yards of total offense.
“The only thing that I am not disappointed about is that we won the game the other day,” Sunseri said, “but we figured out a way to get off the field at the end of the game and give the ball to the offense.”
Sunseri’s defense managed to get off the field four times on Troy’s final five drives, but that was little consolation in the record-breaking performance.
“Obviously there are a lot of issues on defense, a lot of issues,” Dooley said Monday. “The two fair questions are what is the problem and how do you fix it.”
The biggest issue last week? Getting off the field on third down. Whether in single-safety or two-safety sets against Troy, Tennessee gave up first downs on five third down plays of seven yards or longer. The Vols gave up 34 total first downs to the Trojans.
“I am not there saying I am the guru,” Dooley said. “I am not. I am just there watching and listening and resolving any conflict. If I think we shouldn’t do something, I am saying we aren’t doing that.
“... It is just another eye and another set of ears another voice.”
The Vols need as many eyes and ears as possible after nine games.
Tennessee ranks 112th in the nation in total defense, giving up just over 485 yards per game. The Vols are 90th in rush defense (190.33 ypg) and 115th in passing defense (296.78 ypg). Tennessee is last in the SEC in both total defense and pass defense and 13th in the 14-team league in rushing defense.
“You are what your bubblegum card is, that is the old line,” Dooley said Monday. “Where are we on the bubblegum card? There is no point in me saying how we measure up. The stats are what we are right now. Do I think we are better? Of course I do. I know we are but we aren’t playing it, so we are not.”
The bubble gum card couldn’t read much worse at this point. But Sunseri, while holding himself accountable, vowed to get things fixed.
“We are not playing as good as we need to play on defense and I am responsible for it because I am the guy that is calling it,” Sunseri said. “It has to get done.