Vols know defense must improve entering SEC

Indiana State quarterback Isaac Harker fumbles the ball as he's hit by Tennessee defensive lineman Darrell Taylor in the second half Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 42-7. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s early results suggest its defense improved significantly since the start of the season, but the level of competition makes it tough to gauge just how far the Volunteers have come.A better test comes Saturday when the 23rd-ranked Volunteers (2-0) are scheduled to visit No. 24 Florida (0-1) in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams, assuming the weather cooperates. Hurricane Irma’s path through north Florida as a tropical storm has led to speculation the game could be rescheduled or moved, though Tennessee coach Butch Jones said Monday that “we fully anticipate playing the game in Gainesville.”

“Now that the storm has passed through Gainesville, the University of Florida is working with local authorities to assess the effect of the storm on the campus and the Gainesville community, at the same time ensuring the appropriate security and local officials are available to host a game,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement.

Whenever or wherever the game gets played, it should give the Vols a better idea of where they stand defensively.

Tennessee (2-0) opened the season with a 42-41 double-overtime victory over Georgia Tech in which it allowed 535 yards rushing, the highest single-game total the Vols had ever allowed. That defense fared much better against a much weaker opponent in a 42-7 triumph over Football Championship Subdivision program Indiana State.

“There’s a lot that we need to get better at,” Jones said, “but I do think we showed some progress from week one to week two.”

The progress was most evident in third-down situations. Georgia Tech was 13 of 18 on third-down conversions. Indiana State didn’t convert any of its 11 third-down attempts.

Yet the Vols’ pass defense remains very much a mystery, in part because of who they’ve faced thus far.

Georgia Tech attempted just 10 passes against Tennessee. The Vols had no trouble slowing down an Indiana State offense that has completed just 42.1 percent of its pass attempts this season.

Plenty of questions also surround Florida’s offense. Florida opened the season with a 33-17 loss to No. 7 Michigan in which the Gators’ only two touchdowns came on interception returns. Florida’s scheduled game with FCS program Northern Colorado last week was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.

The Gators currently have nine players suspended indefinitely for their roles in an alleged credit card fraud scheme. The list of suspended players includes Florida’s leading rusher (Jordan Scarlett) and receiver (Antonio Callaway) from last season.

Even if those players don’t return for the Tennessee game, Jones believes Florida’s offense has a “lot of playmakers.”

“As a football coach, you’re sitting there and you’re studying the video and you watch them offensively and they’re a play away,” Jones said. “Offensive football is all about 11 individuals working as one, and I think it was a typical first game. You can look and say they have the ability to be explosive. They can put points on the board.”

Defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said the size of Florida’s offensive line provides a challenge.

“They’re going to come out physical,” Vickers said, “and we’ve got to do the same thing as well.”

That’s a common theme for Tennessee this week. Jones said Tennessee tackled much better against Indiana State than in the Georgia Tech game, but he emphasized that the Vols must play more physically on both sides of the ball.

Tennessee believes its defense improved against Indiana State, but it still has a long way to go.

“It’s the real season now,” defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie said after the Indiana State game. “It’s time to get going. It’s time for our SEC rivals.”

NOTES: Jones said wide receivers Tyler Byrd, Josh Smith and Latrell Williams are expected to return this week after missing the Indiana State game with injuries. Smith hasn’t played this season due to a sprained AC joint. Jones said safety/kick returner Evan Berry, cornerback Baylen Buchanan, linebacker Austin Smith, offensive tackle Marcus Tatum and tight end Eli Wolf are questionable.


  1. Vols are facing “a better test” offensively against Florida? Really?

    I’m as Gator as they come but lets be honest here, as long as Doug Nussmeier is our offensive coordinator, our only chance of being able to do well on offense is if every teams’ opposing defensive coordinators puncture a lung laughing at our offensive game tape from the Michigan game and can’t run their defenses against us.

    To think we got all these promises from Coach Mac of a much improved offense and then got to see that miscarriage of offense two weekends ago. Gator Nation has had enough, and it didn’t start with Coach Mac, it has only continued.

    22 times since 2010 our offense hasn’t generated 250 yards of total offense in a game… TWENTY-TWO TIMES. Since the second half of last year’s debacle against UT, the Gator offense has scored only 10 TD’s… TEN and had only THREE drives of 59 or more yards.

    This HAS to stop, and Doug Nussmeier is the root cause of this offensive stagnation. He needed to be fired the Monday after the Michigan loss, yet there he is, still running this offense. I have ZERO idea what to expect Saturday. As far as I know it’ll be yet another offensive let-down and a 0-2 start for 2017.

    Even if we win, i’s just a matter of times before the next blow-out loss because our offense can’t move the ball.

  2. I don’t want to agree c you, Todd. No Sir, not at all, not in the least. That said, I really don’t want to hear stuff like this. Not now, not ever. Savvy?
    But sadly, I’m afraid you’re right. I’m most fearing that by the time we face FSU, the score will be reported as FSU ___ – OTHER ____. If that becomes the case, I’m second most fearing that the Class of 2018 will be gone to greener pastures, in which case this mess only continues ad infinitum.
    On the other hand…….

  3. My keen ability to predict the future has granted me a vision of an article title to appear on Sunday morning in some Tennessee newspaper: “Vols defense demonstrates marked improvement, holding the Gators to 150 yards of offense and 13 rushing yards.”

  4. Last week one our commenters (Randy) was teed off because the game was canceled due to Irma. First of all I want to wish that Randy and his family suffer no damages because of Irma, and he and his family came through in good shape. That said I want to say to all the prophets of doom, one game not a season make, we will beat the Vols!!!!, GO GATORS!!!!!

  5. As a Vol fan, in all the years that Tennessee and Florida have played one another, I can’t remember a season where both fan bases were so down on their teams. I have little to no confidence that Tennessee will win. In fact, I am stunned that Florida is only favored by 6-7 points. I thought the line would be around 14 points. Our defense is terrible, abysmal, horrible, inept, and every other negative label you can imagine. We had no business beating Ga. Tech and were supremely lucky escaping with a win. We looked bland an average against Indiana State. I’m just glad they didn’t suit up Larry Bird as a running back, because even at the age of 60, he probably could have gained 200 yards against our defense. The maddening thing is that our defense has 7 players who were either 4 or 5 star recruits. We have been cursed with a toxic brew of injuries, horrible player development, and a couple of over-rated players. Both Shy Tuttle and Khalil McKensie were 5 star DT’s, Kyle Phillips was a high 4 star DE, Darrin Kirkland was a high 4 star LB, and Dillon Bates, who many thought would be our starting LB midway through his first season and was a high 4 star LB has been a complete bust. Nigel Warrior and Todd Kelly in the secondary were both 4 star guys, and current soph’s Darrell Taylor and Daniel Bituli who are our best players on defense were also 4 star guys. So, how can a team with so many highly ranked players be as HORRIBLE as Tennessee’s defense? Even though Florida has not found its groove or identity on offense, fear not, because help in on the way…Tennessee’s defense will be the salve that your ailing offense needs to give some hope to your fanbase. Good luck and I hope that everyone in Florida affected by Irma finds relief and help in the days, weeks, and months ahead.