That means the outcome probably will hinge on how well the Tide’s standout
receivers fare against the Vols’ veteran secondary.
UT fans know all about D.J. Hall. His 43-yard reception in the final minutes set
up Bama’s game-winning field goal in last year’s 6-3 win at Tuscaloosa. Hall is
hurting a lot of opponents this year, averaging an eye-popping 20.8 yards per
catch (29 receptions, 603 yards) with five touchdown grabs.
Opponents who double-team Hall risk being burned by Keith Brown, who has caught
a team-high 37 passes for 513 yards (13.9 per catch) and three TDs.
As a tandem, Hall and Brown rank fourth nationally in receiving yards at 159.4
per game. Clearly, Tennessee could get scorched if it focuses too much attention
on Darby and not enough on Hall/Brown.
“You can’t load the box and leave guys one-on-one out there all day,” Vol
defensive coordinator John Chavis notes. “You’ve got to be able to mix it up and
pick and choose what you do because they can hurt you throwing the football.”
Of course, Tennessee can hurt you throwing the ball, as well. In fact, UT’s
Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain rank No. 2 nationally as a pass-catching tandem. Going against them in practice each day is a good tune-up for facing Hall and
“We’ve gone against good receivers, so we won’t be shocked,” Chavis says. “We go
against good receivers every day. These guys are really good, so it won’t be any
different. Hopefully, we’ll be able to respond to it.”
Tennessee’s secondary is still adjusting to the loss of starting cornerback
Inquoris Johnson to a Game 2 shoulder injury. Because they’ve had to revamp
their defensive backfield, the Vols rank seventh among SEC teams in pass defense
efficiency and eighth in third-down conversion defense.
“We’ve shaken the whole thing up,” Chavis concedes.
Although the numbers are unimpressive, Tennessee’s pass defense has been pretty
solid since Johnson’s departure. Antwan Stewart moved from strong safety to fill
the void at corner and sophomore Demetrice Morley stepped into Stewart’s former
role. Both have proved capable.
“Stewart’s done a good job at corner,” Chavis says. “Morley has grown a little
bit each week. There obviously was a reason why he wasn’t starting but he’s
grown and is playing really good football for us right now.”
Head coach Phillip Fulmer also is pleased with the secondary’s play.
“Jon Hefney’s played really consistent,” the head man says. “Antwan has taken
the challenge to move out there to cornerback and do a good job. Jon Wade has
some dynamics about him. If he would learn to be more consistent he would be an
exceptional football player. Demetrice … the more he plays the more comfortable
“Even with the injury (to Johnson), that’s a solid group of guys. I see Antonio Wardlow making strides back there, and that’s good to see. Marsalous Johnson is
making some strides.”
Chavis says Johnson and converted receiver Ricardo Kemp are just about ready to
play significant backup roles at cornerback.
“They’re close,” the coordinator notes. “They’ve played some snaps. I think
they’re ready to do certain things. I feel real comfortable with them doing
Overall, Chavis says secondary coach Larry Slade “has done a tremendous job. I
don’t think he gets enough credit for what he does with our guys in the secondary. Without question, it’s the lead unit on our defense. We’d be really sad thinking where we were if those guys hadn’t played as well as they have.”