Struggling for stops

Struggling for stops

There's a reason Tennessee's defense ranks at or near the bottom of the SEC in virtually every statistical category this fall. In fact, there's a bunch of reasons.

"We've been challenged by some great receivers like A.J. Green of Georgia," senior middle linebacker Nick Reveiz said. "We've missed some assignments. Some games we've been fatigued or weren't mentally into it. The UAB game we really came out flat."

With Alabama averaging 33.3 points per game heading into Saturday night's game at Neyland Stadium, Vol defenders had better get their act together in a hurry. Reveiz concedes as much.

"We need to get everybody on the same page," he said. "If you have 10 guys doing it right and one guy doing it wrong, they can bust you for a touchdown. You need to make sure every player does his job. As the Mike (middle) linebacker, I feel that responsibility is on me."

One reason Vol defenders rarely are on the same page is their inexperience. Most never played significant roles prior to this fall.

"I just think we're playing a lot of guys that haven't played very much and we're making a lot of mistakes," senior end Chris Walker said. "It's not what other teams are doing; it's what we're NOT doing. When we watch film we see what we're doing. We just need to stop making the mistakes we've been making."

Asked if the problems are more about alignment or execution, Walker replied: "It's a combination of both. It mostly comes down to getting lined up right and then doing what we're coached to do."

When you look at Tennessee's defensive rankings in the 12-team SEC, it isn't surprising that simply "getting lined up right" has been a challenge:

- No. 12 in total defense (381.0 yards per game)

- No. 11 in sacks (1.17 per game)

- No. 10 in scoring defense (27.5 points per game)

- No. 9 in rushing defense (153.5 yards per game)

- No. 9 in pass defense (227.5 yards per game)

- No. 9 in third-down defense (38.0 percent)

On a positive note, Alabama's offense has sputtered a bit lately, managing just 21 points Oct. 9 at South Carolina and 23 points last weekend against Ole Miss. The Gamecocks and the Rebels managed to slow the Tide's running game a bit, so that will be Job One for Tennessee's defense on Saturday night.

"You've got to minimize the number of missed tackles," Vol head man Derek Dooley said this week. "You've got to play with good technique when you tackle. I think a lot of times you can get a little bit starry-eyed, so you don't use good tackling technique. You've got to play fast and confident and physical and gang tackle."

Even if defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox finds a way to slow Bama's ground game, the Vols may not be able to withstand the ensuing aerial assault. Tennessee's pass defense was horrendous last time out at Georgia, allowing Aaron Murray to complete 17 of 25 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns.

"Our matchup against ANY passing attack has not been good," Dooley grumbled. "As long as they're running routes and throwing the ball, it's a bad matchup."

Tennessee's secondary was burned so often in Games 1 through 5 that it appeared tentative in Game 6 vs. the Dawgs. Dooley won't tolerate that.

"I feel like we just need to play more aggressive," he said. "And if it means we give up some plays, then that's what we've got to do."

Tennessee's deficiencies against the pass are easily explained. A young secondary and a weak pass rush is a lethal combination. Seven sacks in six games won't cut it.

"I think we've got to continue to try to put pressure on the quarterback," Dooley said. "We've made some progress the last couple of weeks at that; getting a little better. That's the key to any good pass defense - quick pressure on the quarterback. And then we've got to play aggressive on the back end. I think we'll get better at it."

Based on this week's SEC statistics, the Vols can't get much worse.

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