Vols defense trying to eliminate the big play
By Grant Ramey | (email@example.com)
KNOXVILLE — Whether it be “bad run fits,” “not straining to the ball in the back end” or just plain “confusion”, Tennessee’s defense has been susceptible — to say the least — to giving up the big play this season.
The “bad run fits” or “not straining to the football” is the usual reasoning given by Tennessee coach Derek Dooley in his post-game press conferences explaining what exactly went wrong.
It was the big play — an 80-yard touchdown run and a 75-yard touchdown pass, to be specific — that helped Florida rally past Tennessee in the second half three weeks ago at Neyland Stadium.
Even Akron got in on the fun, running for a 70-yard touchdown a week later when the Zips came to Knoxville.
It was the worst of the worst two weeks ago at Georgia, when UGA’s freshmen running backs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley combined to run for touchdowns of 51, 72 and 75 yards in the ‘Dawgs 51-44 win.
But with the bye week last week, Tennessee spent two weeks getting back to its defensive basics on the practice field.
Focusing less on the schemes of first-year defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri’s 3-4 scheme and more on physcially beating the man in front of you.
“More than anything, it’s whipping blockers and running to the football,” Dooley said this week. “And that will never change in defensive football. You can sit there and say ‘I got this gap, I got this gap,’ but at the end of the day it’s 11 hats whipping the guy in front of him and running to the football.
“And that will never change. And that’s what we can’t compromise.”
The statistics show Tennessee has compromied plenty across the board on defense, and not just in giving up the big play.
The Vols are sixth in the SEC in scoring defense, giving up 29.2 points per game. They’re 13th (in the 14-team league) in total defense, giving up 425.8 yards per game to the opponent.
Both the rush defense (186.2 yard per game) and pass defense (239.6 yards per game) rank a botton-of-the-barrel 12th in the SEC.
Tennessee is dead last in the SEC in sacks, getting to the quarterback just six times in five games. In comparion, South Carolina, the SEC leader in sacks, has 25.
Dooley said one correction made has been reminding his team sometimes you have to forget about the specifics of the scheme and just play defense.
“I think what happens is it’s something you temper when you get really drawn into where you’re supposed to be,” Dooley said. “Then you’ve got to remind them, ‘Look, you can’t compromise what matters.’
“There’s certain places you need to be relative to the ball and blockers, but when you’re sitting there thinking about where you need to be, sometimes you forget about the most important thing, which is showing up in a real bad mood at the ball carrier.”
There’s always growing pains in switching schemes, which the Vols did over the offseason in moving from the 4-3 to the 3-4, but the growing pains for Sunseri’s defense has seemingly come 50 yards at a time.
“We would like to go out the next (seven weeks) and cut all of them out, but in football there are explosive plays,” Sunseri said Wednesday. “You try to eliminate the explosive plays but there are going to be one or two.
“You don’t want more than what we’ve had.”