Mike Strange: Stops give defense confidence

Mike Strange

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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.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 13

Ga_Dave writes:

I am so proud of that Big D with those stops. Let's eat lizard meat next. GBO

jack_2222#231746 writes:

gators wanna play action pass, only throw when they want to, Tennessee doesn't care. Ironic, isn' it?

BuckFama writes:

Your mama calls you precious?! Wonder why?

http://www.petticoated.com/evets/Page...

writer#358485 writes:

If a Gator troll only thinks Florida will win by 10, we've got them right where we want them--under-confident;-) Go Vols!

FearTheVols1252 writes:

in response to Mama_Calls_Me_Precious:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Kind of like Florida is a middle of the pack SEC team... unless of course you're living in that same fantasy world.

And 'cocky smack talkers'? Yeah... hey pot, it's kettle... just calling to say you're black.

I'm not writing a UT victory in stone just yet, but the Florida fans are getting scared after Bray has racked up nearly 700 yards in two games!

FiftyOne writes:

My screen name say's it all. The VOLS will let their play do the talking. We have not seen too many of the trolls yet....they are not so cocky this year. Brantley is lame and the D line is the only place they "may" be better than we are.

govolsrpa writes:

I really like our coaching staff it is the best in many a year. Still short on players in the front seven and Florida is still very talented and this will be a challenge for our OLine. Most Oline players become great run blockers in their third year of being in the program.Florida is and should be the favorite but if we dont beat ourselves with turnovers we will be in this game in the fourth quater and thats all you want when playing on the road against a very good team. Galatians 3;26-27

Volunatic writes:

in response to Ga_Dave:

I am so proud of that Big D with those stops. Let's eat lizard meat next. GBO

Lizard meat tastes terrible.

givehim6 writes:

Think UT's secondary is good enough to keep UF one diminutional. But the D needs to keep Moody and Rainy in check, no sleeping like last weeks 1st quarter. Do not expect a blow out, try to keep it under 21. Do not think UT will put 40+ on UF (would be nice to see) 28 or 31 sounds right. WE ARE UT, GO VOLS!

givehim6 writes:

in response to Volunatic:

Lizard meat tastes terrible.

But gator is good if cooked right.

abnermc writes:

in response to govolsrpa:

I really like our coaching staff it is the best in many a year. Still short on players in the front seven and Florida is still very talented and this will be a challenge for our OLine. Most Oline players become great run blockers in their third year of being in the program.Florida is and should be the favorite but if we dont beat ourselves with turnovers we will be in this game in the fourth quater and thats all you want when playing on the road against a very good team. Galatians 3;26-27

AMEN!

Brillovol writes:

in response to givehim6:

Think UT's secondary is good enough to keep UF one diminutional. But the D needs to keep Moody and Rainy in check, no sleeping like last weeks 1st quarter. Do not expect a blow out, try to keep it under 21. Do not think UT will put 40+ on UF (would be nice to see) 28 or 31 sounds right. WE ARE UT, GO VOLS!

Spot on. I like our chances to put up around 30 points on offense. I have absolutely no clue on how our D will fare. That's what makes me question this game. My only hope is that Cincy's offense is just as good or better than Fla's.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to WaltGoVols:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Good post; I agree completely. I am not among the Fulmer haters, but it was clear that Spurrier and Meyer were in his head, the same way Bama was always in Majors' head no matter who was coaching. The team and the coaches know that they have a golden opportunity to create their own legacy, starting Saturday, and I think they will let it all hang out, playing to WIN rather than playing NOT TO LOSE. GBO!!! TCB!!!

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