Former Vanderbilt football coach Bobby Johnson shares thoughts on Derek Dooley
Game summary: Tennessee vs. Cincinnati
Dooley's orange pants a good luck charm for the Vols?
Know your Vols: The D-line - Games to look forward to
John Henderson would have been proud. Al Wilson would have been smacking guys on the helmet in excitement.
The big story coming out of Tennessee's win over Cincinnati on Saturday was the air show. That's what got Tyler Bray an SEC offensive player of the week honor. That's what landed Da'Rick Rogers on ESPN's Top Plays.
But three short-yardage stops by a young Tennessee defense provided the cushion in what turned out to be a 45-23 romp.
"I think just seeing that we stopped 'em is going to help us in further games thinking we can stop them,'' said linebacker Austin Johnson.
Like Saturday's game with Florida at The Swamp?
That remains to be seen, of course. At least Tim Tebow won't be out there as an invincible short-yardage battering ram.
The Vols came into the 2011 season knowing defense would be a significant question mark. Tackle Malik Jackson is a good one, but he's the only returning starter out of the front seven.
So, I don't know about you but I was a bit surprised to see the Vols turn back a potent Cincinnati offense not once but twice on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter.
UT's lead was a modest 21-14 at the time. The Bearcats had been abusing UT's defense in the first quarter.
"We felt like we were letting the offense down,'' said defensive end Marlon Walls. "We didn't want to leave them out there hanging.''
The defense went one better in the third quarter. The Bearcats had first-and-goal at the Tennessee 1.
"That can be discouraging,'' said Johnson, "like, 'Oh, they're gonna score now,' but we bowed our backs and didn't let 'em score.''
The Bearcats did score, but only three instead of seven. By the time they got to fourth-and-goal they didn't want any part of trying to make a yard.
Coach Derek Dooley cited the importance of the three stops Monday, just as he did after the game Saturday night.
"What is encouraging,'' said Dooley, "is just an aggressive nature more than anything.
"It's not that you're so much better, but so many plays can get made with an aggressive attitude.''
That would describe Walls.
On Cincinnati's first-and-goal play, quarterback Zach Collaros came very close to the touchdown on a sneak.
"He was almost in,'' said defensive tackle Daniel Hood, "Marlon grabbed him by his pads and just pulled him back.
"Without that it would have been a touchdown and maybe a different ballgame.''
Said Walls, "For some reason I looked at the pylon with the outside of my eye and saw he was close so my immediate reaction was to snatch him back.''
It was a four-point snatch. An instinctive, aggressive play.
Dooley is right that now isn't the time to start comparing this defense to the ones guys like Henderson and Wilson played on back in the day.
In fact, the Vols dodged a bullet on the first fourth-and-1 stop when Cincinnati's Collaros failed to read their misalignment.
"We had like six people lined up in the 'A' gap,'' Hood said, with a smile. "If they would have shifted to an outside run, we'd have nobody there.''
Evidently those six guys, or a couple of them at least, made an aggressive play. They got the stop.
"If you're tentative,'' said Dooley, "they get you. But if you just line up and 'let's go,' you can overcome a lot.''
The SEC season begins Saturday. The Vols will have plenty to overcome.