Tennessee Stat Book
Georgia stat book
When your defense gives up 434 yards, that's a troublesome number.
However, when it's 110 yards fewer than the week before, hey, at least that's something.
When the other team's quarterback sprints 83 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, you might want to take off your headset and go find a bar stool. It's going to be a long day.
However, when the other team doesn't cross the goal line again for the next 59:47, you want to be smack dab in the middle of that action.
That was pretty much defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox's day at LSU last Saturday.
Wilcox knew it would be no picnic when he accepted Derek Dooley's invitation to leave a championship-caliber Boise State team and come direct Tennessee's defense.
Boise State's defense was in large part a done deal for 2010. With 10 returning starters, the heavy lifting was over.
Tennessee, in contrast, had a few pieces of the puzzle. But the holes outnumbered the pieces.
Wilcox spoke Wednesday of veteran teams being so set by opening day they go into "maintenance mode" for the season. He wasn't talking about the Vols.
"The work is never done for us,'' Wilcox said.
"We're too young, too inexperienced, so we've got to continue to get better each week.''
Five games in, the Vols reach the halfway point of the season Saturday when they go to Georgia. And there is in fact progress.
That progress is hard to pick out by perusing statistics. UT ranks low in most SEC defensive categories.
Furthermore, some might ask what progress is being made when you can't even get the proper number of players on the field at the end of a game.
"It was a unique situation,'' Wilcox said of the chaotic finish at LSU, "but at the end of the day it's our job, and my job on defense, to make sure we can react to anything that happens to us. So I failed us in that manner.''
Failure is not something often associated with Wilcox. Only 33, the former Oregon defensive back and son of NFL All-Pro linebacker Dave Wilcox was on top of the game at Boise.
The Broncos were 49-4 in his four seasons as coordinator. They ranked third nationally in 2009 in turnover margin and 14th in scoring defense.
Tennessee presented a considerable set of problems.
But it was there at LSU, the progress that gives hope to a better day at Georgia and beyond.
"There are certain players over the first five games who have shown noticeable improvement,'' Wilcox said.
Freshman lineman Jacques Smith is one of them. Marsalis Teague is another, coming on strong at cornerback.
Nick Reveiz and LaMarcus Thompson are getting the job done at Mike and Sam linebacker, respectively.
Safety Janzen Jackson is starting to play up to his talent. Four turnovers produced at LSU was definitely a positive sign.
"Turnovers happen,'' Wilcox said, "when you're playing fast and physical and know what you're doing. I think the guys are getting more comfortable each week.''
Just not too comfortable. Tennessee at mid-season is a long, long way from maintenance mode.
This is still survival mode. But look hard enough and there is progress.
Mike Strange may be reached at email@example.com or 865-342-6276.