Mike Strange: 'Catastrophe' plays have to stop

Mike Strange

A guy lines up wrong, maybe off his mark by only a yard. Then another guy misses a tackle.

What have you got?

"Bad news,'' Justin Wilcox said Wednesday.

Tennessee's defensive coordinator knows bad news when he sees it and looking down from his perch in the press box, he's seen it several times already in 2011.

Montana: 80-yard touchdown pass over a freshman defensive back.

Cincinnati: 65-yard touchdown run.

Florida: 3-yard pass turns into an 83-yard touchdown.

Every defense is going to get beat from time to time. Did you see the Miami Dolphins give up a 99-yard TD pass to the Patriots on opening day?

But the goal is to prevent those bad plays from turning into "catastrophic" plays. Wilcox's terminology, not mine.

Of course, it's a challenge. The turnover in Tennessee's defensive personnel from last year to this year has been significant to say the least.

The turnover spilled into August when free safety Janzen Jackson, arguably the defense's best player, was dismissed.

"We're doing some good things,'' head coach Derek Dooley said, "but we're giving up just these enormous plays that are killing us.''

The good things? Dooley said of 217 defensive snaps this season, 208 have yielded an average of 3.3 yards per play.

Ah, the killers? The other nine have averaged 46.4 yards per play.

The goal is to give up zero plays of 25 yards or more. Mission accomplished — except for three plays in each of the Vols' three games.

Montana had the 80-yard TD pass, a 32-yard completion and a 27-yard run.

Cincinnati popped a 65-yard TD run on the opening possession, had a 27-yard run and a 46-yard pass.

Florida had a 28-yard run, a 28-yard pass and then Chris Rainey's 83-yard score, the longest pass reception by a running back in Florida history.

UT has been burned for the longest two pass completions in the young SEC season. There have been two runs from scrimmage allowed longer than Cincinnati's, both by woeful Ole Miss.

In reality, UT should be content if it could just eliminate the three catastrophe plays. If a 28-yard run is the best Florida can do, you take that and get on the plane.

"Usually what happens,'' Wilcox said, "is there's a bust by at least one person, usually accompanied by a missed tackle.

"You can't have that. It can't happen. You're going to have bad plays, but you've got to get the guy on the ground, line up again first-and-10 and make them drive the ball.''

Like really good defenses do.

The longest play Alabama has allowed in three games is 27 yards. The longest LSU has yielded is 25 yards.

Tennessee's defense, on the other hand, is very much a work in progress. Most everyone is in a role or position different from last season. Four true freshmen see significant action, two at linebacker and two in the secondary.

"There are no do-overs,'' Wilcox said. "You don't get 'em back. They've got to understand that.''

Dooley has talked of players acquiring battle scars as they mature.

The next step is keeping those scars off the scoreboard.

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 » 41

Packer_Park_Orange (Inactive) writes:

The catastrophe is handing the keys to a coach with a losing record, that's never beaten a ranked team, never beaten a Division I school with a winning record and is headed for 5-7 this year...Then turning around and saying he's doing a great job.

Mtnbiker writes:

Some interesting stats, I', not really surprised by them. I knew our D has played pretty darn well except for those 3 gotcha plays.

CoverOrange writes:

Research and insightful analysis. Good work Mike.

I didn't really see that many missed tackles, least not of the kind where a DB lowers his shoulder for the big hit and whiffs. Most others were misses caused by being out of position against small speedy backs. Blown assignments is the bigger deal that any opposing OC can scheme for and take advantage of.

orangecountyvols writes:

in response to Packer_Park_Orange:

The catastrophe is handing the keys to a coach with a losing record, that's never beaten a ranked team, never beaten a Division I school with a winning record and is headed for 5-7 this year...Then turning around and saying he's doing a great job.

As far as trolls are concerned, some are kinda'
over bearing and just plain obnoxious.

You troll.............are just that, plus sick.

pingkr62 writes:

Still a very young team. The season is just starting. There is time, and room,for improvement. I think we can all wait and see how the rest of the season shapes up. The statistic of the defensive plays was astounding. I guess we tend to look at the negatives closer than the positive. Keep up the good work players and coaches. the florida game will be forgotten soon. G.B.O.!!!!!!!!!

wbsmd1 writes:

Why when Weiss immediately attacks our linebackers with short passes paticularly to the flat do we not change personnel or alignment.He clearly recognized our hybrid linebacker/lineman were not agile enough to make plays in the open field. Twice Rainey who has world class speed could have jogged down the field.Everyone else in the SEC will attack us the same way. It is amazing the same plays go for big yardage in the second half. I made people mad yesterday when I stated Wilcox was overmatched with Weiss but with persistence of the same glaring pattern what is the explanation?

Packer_Park_Orange (Inactive) writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

As far as trolls are concerned, some are kinda'
over bearing and just plain obnoxious.

You troll.............are just that, plus sick.

Wrong..the trolls are the ones here who swoon with every new Dooley blunder...If trolls are the ones who see CDD taking our program into the abyss...then there'll be alot more here in the weeks to come...I don't much care for being ranked below Vanderpuke.

jobrando#216494 writes:

in response to Whatthehellsgoingonoutthere:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Wonder what trauma he experienced before that season started...5-6 was a big change for his teams...I guess he was tired of it all

wbsmd1 writes:

in response to Whatthehellsgoingonoutthere:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Linear, Wilks, Moore could be used in different packages. Maggitt, And the 2 Johnsons have less agility than previous defensive ends Mike Cofer and Leonard Little.

hglover40#234154 writes:

No one knows if Dooley will turn us around - not even YOU. Can you wait until Dooley has had 4 years to take his recruits from Freshmen to Senoirs and see how he does before passing judgement. Please think about it, and while you are thinking here is an interesting stat for you - Fulmer winless against Meyer and Saban and Miles !!

pingkr62 writes:

in response to simmsagain:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I think confused is the trend. If the coaches could stand on the field with the players during the game, that would remedy the problems. But of course they can't do so. Try to remember, two of our linebackers were playing high school football this time last year. They have alot to learn as SEC linebackers. Try to give them a break.

shorttail writes:

in response to Whatthehellsgoingonoutthere:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

good post

Go_Big_O writes:

It's too bad we don't have our "eraser" anymore. JJ would have erased some of these mistakes.

Packer_Park_Orange (Inactive) writes:

in response to pingkr62:

I think confused is the trend. If the coaches could stand on the field with the players during the game, that would remedy the problems. But of course they can't do so. Try to remember, two of our linebackers were playing high school football this time last year. They have alot to learn as SEC linebackers. Try to give them a break.

Gee..I thought I remembered something about Jack Reynolds and Steve Kiner going through the SEC undefeated and winning the Championship in their 1st year of eligibility...Wonder when we all of a sudden discovered young Vols can't play...Must have been when Dooley and his lackeys here started needing excuses.

hcjournals#206623 writes:

I hate open weeks for this reason. We got beat and now we have to analyze it ad infinitum....Here's the bottom line....We had a shot..Hunter got hurt...We spent the next 30 minutes feeling sorry for ourselves...We regrouped.....We came back....The offense did anyway...The defense gave up the most humiliating touchdown pass in the history of the series...We hung in there...The offense came back again..The defense couldn't keep them from scoring....Get it yet? The defense needs to get it together...The good news is they probably can....The whole team needs to get game. Since Peyton is hurt he needs to come to a practice or a game and set everyone straight...Right Peyton? I'm out....

foosballer writes:

in response to Packer_Park_Orange:

The catastrophe is handing the keys to a coach with a losing record, that's never beaten a ranked team, never beaten a Division I school with a winning record and is headed for 5-7 this year...Then turning around and saying he's doing a great job.

Seriously...what is your deal with Coach Dooley? He's 16 games into a MAJOR overhauling of a major college football program. And, by the way, he had NOTHING to do with Fulmer's firing!

A true fan would be willing to give anybody a fair shot...

Geez...lighten up.

foosballer writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It IS starting to sound like a spurned man-crush.

wbsmd1 writes:

The most fundamental reason for repeated giving up big plays is lack of speed. Our poor speed at linebacker should prohibit the secondary from playing anything but zone coverages.

BigVolinCarolina writes:

Those "big plays" killed us last year, too.

It's amazing to me how teams like Florida and 'Bama regularly do more with their true freshman "year in, year out" more than Tennessee. Our excuse is always "our guys are young and need experience". The same thing was said under Fulmer.

BigVolFaninSC writes:

in response to foosballer:

Seriously...what is your deal with Coach Dooley? He's 16 games into a MAJOR overhauling of a major college football program. And, by the way, he had NOTHING to do with Fulmer's firing!

A true fan would be willing to give anybody a fair shot...

Geez...lighten up.

You answered your own question when you said, "A true fan...", which obviously PackerPickleSlurper is NOT!

And some actual fans lack any patience to allow a team that is showing progress a chance to complete a rebuilding process! With the attrition, it was like starting the program all over again!

BigVolFaninSC writes:

Thanks, Mr. Strange, for another insightful article! It shows how this great game that we love can change on a very few plays! The line between winning and losing gets ever closer! It shows me that as young and inexperienced as our boys are, that eliminating a few mistakes each game can change the outcome! Let's get it done VOLS!

arkyvol writes:

i admit that math was never my strong suit, but if 95% of the opponents plays will result in gains of 3.3 yards, doesn't that routinely put them in 4th and inches? and given that the next play is likely to produce another 3.3 yards...well, if i'm missing something here, someone please tell me. otherwise, i'd be surprised if an opponent's punter ever took the field.

never thought i'd feel this way, but i'm missing john chavis.

TommyJack writes:

in response to Packer_Park_Orange:

The catastrophe is handing the keys to a coach with a losing record, that's never beaten a ranked team, never beaten a Division I school with a winning record and is headed for 5-7 this year...Then turning around and saying he's doing a great job.

Don't you have some place to be, Phillip?

TheRealDragonSlayer writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Don't you have some place to be, Phillip?

Not really, because nobody wants him :)

On another note, it is a misrepresenation (at best) in the stats when they count Rainey's 83-yard TD as the longest receiving TD by a running back. These little guys are not running backs. They are receivers who line up in the running back position, rarely do running plays, and more often than not get the ball thrown to them. Percy Harvin was supposedly a "running back" at Florida...what position is he playing in the NFL?

Rainey and Demps cant run between the tackles, and when they do, they get hurt. They are wide receivers, not running backs.

Pompey writes:

in response to Packer_Park_Orange:

The catastrophe is handing the keys to a coach with a losing record, that's never beaten a ranked team, never beaten a Division I school with a winning record and is headed for 5-7 this year...Then turning around and saying he's doing a great job.

....you seem to suffer from the fat boy syndrome...But mommy can make it all better.....

orangebloodgmc writes:

Dooley is doing a great job.

We all knew starting multiple true freshmen on defense would include some growing pains, but it will pay off in long run.

But four weeks into the season, we have one loss. Five weeks into the season, we will have one loss. And six weeks into the season ... we will have one loss.

(Laughing and pointing at haters)

orangevolman writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Good one. Thanks for the laugh.

HoustonVol writes:

I remember that after Chavis' 2nd season everyone wanted to run him out of town because of how bad the defenses were playing. Fulmer stuck by him and now most consider him one of the best DC in the game today. It take a while of playing and coaching a system for it to stick. This is Chavis' third year at LSU and will be his best yet. Our defense has improved a lot from last year to this year, but still has more to learn. I have full confidence in Dooly and Wilcox that we will have one of the best teams in the nation by the end of this year. I thought that we would end the regular season 8-4, and nothing that I have seen yet has changed that opinion. So one loss is not the end of the world.

VOL1972 writes:

in response to HoustonVol:

I remember that after Chavis' 2nd season everyone wanted to run him out of town because of how bad the defenses were playing. Fulmer stuck by him and now most consider him one of the best DC in the game today. It take a while of playing and coaching a system for it to stick. This is Chavis' third year at LSU and will be his best yet. Our defense has improved a lot from last year to this year, but still has more to learn. I have full confidence in Dooly and Wilcox that we will have one of the best teams in the nation by the end of this year. I thought that we would end the regular season 8-4, and nothing that I have seen yet has changed that opinion. So one loss is not the end of the world.

I hope you're right. The schedule is a bear. A 6-6 season wouldn't be an embarrassment. To go 7-5 we have to beat someone we’re not supposed to – possibly GA or SC. To get to 8-4 we have to beat them both without letting someone slip up on us.

By the way, I like Dooley. I think he’s a pretty good coach. If we don’t win 8 or 9 regular season games next year, I’ll start to get a little critical, but he needs some time to rebuild – he didn’t have much coming in. If he goes 9-3 this year, GA would probably take him away (cause it looks like Richt’s last year).

VOLliven2it writes:

Hey we still have 9 games to look good or bad in. I think we will have a combination. I will be pulling for the Volunteers no matter what. It does not matter to me who the head coach is. I like Derek Dooley and the current staff. Even if I didn't, I would not whine and complain like a baby about him and would try to show class in our wins and losses. I am looking forward to the remaining games knowing some will be beyond tough for us. So can we begin to get over the FL game? It is over, we lost and we move on. What is to come is more important than all the blabber about this bad play, that missed tackle etc. GO VOLS!

murrayvol writes:

in response to CoverOrange:

Research and insightful analysis. Good work Mike.

I didn't really see that many missed tackles, least not of the kind where a DB lowers his shoulder for the big hit and whiffs. Most others were misses caused by being out of position against small speedy backs. Blown assignments is the bigger deal that any opposing OC can scheme for and take advantage of.

I don't know how you "scheme for" blown assignments CO. I know you can take advantage of them when they occur....especially if you're good.

volnvette03 writes:

Last year we hung with FL, BAMA, and the Ducks for the first half then to be blown out in the second half. Reason: We were low on depth. We were down 9 points in the first, and finished 1 point less in the second with FL. Mistakes can be corrected in the course of a year. Last year's depth could not. Let's give it a chance, at least for 9 more games before we write off the season.

murrayvol writes:

in response to simmsagain:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Charlie Weis may not be the best HC that ever put on a headset but the dude can coordinate with the best of em. He spends every waking hour in a game week thinking of ways to get the ball to Rainey and Demps in space. When that happens nobody's going to catch them.

If JJ had been back there maybe he nails Rainey....but he's history.

budd#207344 writes:

A couple of points
1. Florida is just as young as we are
2. The defense did ok. Their errors were them missing schemes not blowing basics.
3. This was expected to be a shoot out. We did not have the OL to get into a shoot out.
4. There needs to be some real accountability with the assistant coaches. If Dooley does not want to become Fulmer or Richt he needs to make sure that if a coach is not producing he does not stay. special teams, OL, running backs

1963VOLS writes:

LADIES AND GUYS,JUST LOOK AT CINCI RIGHT NOW 44 TO 14 AGAINST NC STATE,THERE IS A SANTA CLAUSE,JUST WAIT.GBO WE WILL BE ALRIGHT THE TROLLS AND HATERS CAN GO AWAY.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to arkyvol:

i admit that math was never my strong suit, but if 95% of the opponents plays will result in gains of 3.3 yards, doesn't that routinely put them in 4th and inches? and given that the next play is likely to produce another 3.3 yards...well, if i'm missing something here, someone please tell me. otherwise, i'd be surprised if an opponent's punter ever took the field.

never thought i'd feel this way, but i'm missing john chavis.

Three things: 1) 3.3 yards per play is pretty darn good! Not too many defenses do better than that over the course of a season. 2) I don't know for sure, but I suspect that that average doesn't include penalties, which put a team behind the trend line that you cited, or at least renders it irrelevant. 3) As with all statistics, it doesn't mean that EVERY play goes for 3.3 yards; some go for minus yards; some result in turnovers.

On the topic of big plays, most of them were just as Wilcox describes; someone blows an assignment and someone else misses a tackle. As big a hitter as he was, Jackson missed a LOT of tackles himself. On several of those big plays, the defender overestimated his own speed and underestimated the speed of the ball carrier, thus taking a bad angle. A more seasoned defender realizes that his first step should be in a direction to contain the ball carrier, then his second step is to advance to contact. Our guys were taking three or four steps in a straight line on an angle where they THOUGHT they would intersect the ball carrier. By committing headlong on that line, they were off-balance for making the sharp move to compensate for bad position. Defensive players play on instinct; it takes time to instill a more disciplined approach to pursuit.

johnlg00 writes:

BTW, arkyvol and others who expressed a similar sentiment, I agree that Chavis was and is a very good, possibly even great, defensive coordinator. However, he generally had more good players on defense both at UT and now at LSU than UT does now. Rarely did Chavis have to break in three true freshmen starters and several other guys who had hardly played before on one defensive team. Give Wilcox and his young players just a little bit of a break this season. They will all get better.

dalvol writes:

in response to Packer_Park_Orange:

The catastrophe is handing the keys to a coach with a losing record, that's never beaten a ranked team, never beaten a Division I school with a winning record and is headed for 5-7 this year...Then turning around and saying he's doing a great job.

It has been said that a critic is one who goes on the field after the battle and shoots the wounded. That's what critics get paid to do. I'm trying to figure out what is going on between the ears of trolls like PPO and Bodeane who seem to be fans of other teams, yet they spend so much time on here criticizing our players, our coaches, our fans. They must feel inadequate in some way and this behavior makes them feel better. I'm praying for them.

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

in response to VOL1972:

I hope you're right. The schedule is a bear. A 6-6 season wouldn't be an embarrassment. To go 7-5 we have to beat someone we’re not supposed to – possibly GA or SC. To get to 8-4 we have to beat them both without letting someone slip up on us.

By the way, I like Dooley. I think he’s a pretty good coach. If we don’t win 8 or 9 regular season games next year, I’ll start to get a little critical, but he needs some time to rebuild – he didn’t have much coming in. If he goes 9-3 this year, GA would probably take him away (cause it looks like Richt’s last year).

I concur with you, Vol. Losing Hunter was not only a huge psychological and emotional blow, it was a huge logistical blow. Defenses had to respect his presence and without it, I believe they throw a lot more blitzes at Bray, and I truly hope he is not injured at some point. That freshman, Clowney, for SC is a beast, and I believe he will be making a living in the UT backfield. I believe a 6-6 season is much more realistic, and as much as I hate to agree with PPO, a 5-7 record could be very likely with the way Vandy's new coach has them playing. Against the upper echelon teams in the SEC, we just seem to be so outmanned and overmatched, both on the field and on the sidelines. By the way, I would enjoy nothing more than to see my prediction proven totally inaccurate by season's end, because a bowl season without the Vols is like Christmas without the family gathering--just really empty.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to volfaninbuckeyeland:

I concur with you, Vol. Losing Hunter was not only a huge psychological and emotional blow, it was a huge logistical blow. Defenses had to respect his presence and without it, I believe they throw a lot more blitzes at Bray, and I truly hope he is not injured at some point. That freshman, Clowney, for SC is a beast, and I believe he will be making a living in the UT backfield. I believe a 6-6 season is much more realistic, and as much as I hate to agree with PPO, a 5-7 record could be very likely with the way Vandy's new coach has them playing. Against the upper echelon teams in the SEC, we just seem to be so outmanned and overmatched, both on the field and on the sidelines. By the way, I would enjoy nothing more than to see my prediction proven totally inaccurate by season's end, because a bowl season without the Vols is like Christmas without the family gathering--just really empty.

As for agreeing with PPO, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. The same is true of most trolls. The difference between you and them is that when they predict the worst for the team and Dooley, they HOPE for it to turn out that way. Many of us have our quibbles with this or that aspect of the program from time to time, but real fans don't DWELL on negatives and they certainly don't display obvious GLEE when things go wrong.

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

in response to johnlg00:

As for agreeing with PPO, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. The same is true of most trolls. The difference between you and them is that when they predict the worst for the team and Dooley, they HOPE for it to turn out that way. Many of us have our quibbles with this or that aspect of the program from time to time, but real fans don't DWELL on negatives and they certainly don't display obvious GLEE when things go wrong.

Thanks, John, for your recognition of that distinction between me & PPO. Every once in a while, even the majority of Congress can agree on something, but that agreement does not make them "bosom buddies." My personal philosophy is that a person can only rile me when I grant him the authority to do so. As you have probably noticed, no other poster generates as much response as PPO, and while he does make an occasional valid point, one has to wonder if his ultimate objective is the attention so many are willing to give him. He really does enjoy "stirring the pot." Reminds me a little of Spurrier's numerous digs at UT's expense. I personally found them to be humorous as well as motivational, and I always thought that they displayed an underlying respect for the grand tradition of UT football. In the end, criticism in and of itself is not bad when it forces us to improve. After all, the 10 Commandments are primarily negatives intended to generate a positive result, but the overriding factor is that they were rendered out of love. Thanks again for your mature and articulate post--it was spot on!

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