Tennessee Stat Book
If you think you're witnessing the worst defense in Tennessee's long and esteemed football history, you're almost right.
After Alabama's 41-17 rout in Tusculoosa on Saturday, I wondered if Tennessee had ever allowed 40 points in three different games during the same season - prior to this one.
I had to go back to 1893 - that's 1893, not 1993 - to find a precedent.
Grover Cleveland was in the White House when UT's fledging program lost four consecutive games by a combined 256-0.
It's that rare. In a 50-year span from 1923 to 1973, the Vols were touched for 40 points in a game only once, by Ole Miss in 1947.
To be fair, the modern game is different. There are Tim Tebows, Percy Harvins and DeSean Jacksons coming at you from all angles.
That said, you're still supposed to tackle them every now and then.
Managing a college football program is a balancing act. Just two short years ago, Tennessee was losing games by 16-7, 6-3 and 16-15.
John Chavis and his defense were hanging tough. Their margin for error was slim because the offense couldn't find the end zone with a GPS. Get beat on one big play late and it might cost you the game.
How the roles have flipped. Erik Ainge and mates better score a bunch because the defense is going to give up a bunch: 45 to Cal, 59 to Florida and, on Saturday, 41 to Alabama.
In the Cal and Florida losses, Tennessee's offensive goofs and punt-cover breakdowns contributed scores. Alabama earned all 41 the conventional way and did it without Heisman Trophy candidates or All-Americans.
The timing couldn't be more discouraging. Just when it appeared the defense was taking shape against Georgia and Mississippi State, it's back to the drawing board.
Outside the locker room in Tuscaloosa, junior Demonte Bolden promised the defense could get on the practice field Monday and get things corrected.
Phillip Fulmer didn't wait that long. He called a rare Sunday night practice.
The problem is he doesn't have any miracle fixes. Improvement will come, but the gains will likely be in inches, not the miles that are needed.
The Vols are giving up an average of 32.3 points a game, which ranks 94th nationally, and 406.7 yards a game, which ranks 80th.
They've produced only nine turnovers in seven games, which ties for 106th. Their seven sacks tie for 100th. They rank 117th out of 119 teams in tackles-for-loss per game (3.71).
"We've just got some young guys out there having challenges,'' Fulmer said Sunday. "We can get those things tightened up and get back to being ourselves, or as close as we can be.''
It's fair to wonder how close the Vols would be to themselves if they had Inky Johnson (injured), Roshaun Fellows (dismissed), Demetrice Morley (flunked out) and Antonio Gaines (injured) in the secondary.
Anticipating at least some of that attrition, the Vols recruited junior-college defensive backs DeAngelo Willingham and Nevin McKenzie. Neither, however, has proved to be an answer, thus true freshmen Eric Berry and Brent Vinson are starters.
Would the secondary get more help up front if defensive linemen Gerald Williams, Rae Sykes, Rufus Williams, Rolando Melancon and Cory Hall had not been denied admission in the past two signing classes?
"That's all hypothetical,'' Fulmer said, "but you sign guys because you think they can help you.''
No major personnel moves are in the works, Fulmer said. The cavalry isn't coming up Chapman Highway at full gallop. He can't sign a veteran cornerback off the waiver wire.
So you try to, uh, tighten up and look to the future.
Where you see, among other things, Arkansas averaging 37.7 points a game and Kentucky averaging 42.
Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.