UT's 'embarrassing' defense goes from bad to record worst

Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri signals to his players during the first half against Troy on Saturday in Neyland Stadium. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Michael Patrick, copyright © 2012

Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri signals to his players during the first half against Troy on Saturday in Neyland Stadium. (MICHAEL PATRICK/NEWS SENTINEL)

A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt each wore thousand-yard stares.

They and the Tennessee defense nearly gave up that many.

Maggitt called the day "unacceptable." Johnson chose "embarrassing."

Both were befitting.

The two Tennessee linebackers had few answers in explaining the Vols' record-smashing ineptitude in Saturday's 55-48 victory against visiting Troy.

The numbers jumped off the stat sheet — 48 points surrendered, a school-record 721 yards allowed.

Coach Derek Dooley let the words seep out.

"Seven-two-one," he said.

There was little left to say. This wasn't mighty Alabama. It wasn't high-octane Florida. It wasn't Steve Spurrier and South Carolina.

It was Troy. And after a week of assurances that the Vols' defense would find its way before season's end, Troy turned Neyland Stadium into its personal practice field.

The Trojans ran 99 plays. They gained 496 yards through the air, 225 on the ground. They racked up 34 first downs. They ate nearly 38 minutes of the game clock.

They dominated the Vols.

"We knew it was going to be statistically a tough game," Dooley said. "But not that tough."

Not historically tough.

The signs were there early. On Troy's second offensive possession, the Trojans faced a third-and-9 on the UT 17. A pass from quarterback Corey Robinson fell incomplete.

Flag. Offsides, Tennessee.

On third-and-4, Robinson again couldn't find his target. An incomplete pass bounded on the turf.

Flag. Offsides, Tennessee.

First down, Troy.

Running back Shawn Southward scored on the following play.

"We made a ton of mistakes, which is the same storyline," Dooley said.

On Wednesday of last week, UT secondary coach Josh Conklin called pre-snap communication issues a "problem (that) compounds week after week if you don't get it fixed."

Another week. More compounding.

When the Trojans found themselves on the UT 16-yard line with a 28-10 deficit, coach Larry Blakeney sent out the field-goal unit on fourth-and-2. Confusion ensued.

Tennessee had the wrong personnel on the field and one too many players. Dooley called timeout.

Blakeney reconsidered. He went for it, and was rewarded with a 15-yard first-down pass. He watched his Trojans score three plays later.

Over and over, the Vols tripped over themselves. Asked after the game if defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's efforts to simplify his newly installed 3-4 defense is helping matters, Maggitt said it's as basic as can be.

"The defense is pretty simple," the sophomore said. "Coach Sal is doing the best he can. It is on us. We just have to go out there and execute."

If a lasting image emerged from the afternoon at Neyland, it was Vols starting strong safety LaDarrell McNeil being planted into the ground by Troy's run-first quarterback Deon Anthony. McNeil met Anthony a few yards in front of the end zone on a 28-yard run late in the first half.

McNeil ended up on his back. Anthony ended up on the checkerboard.

"I couldn't be denied to get in the end zone," Anthony said.

The Trojans were denied few things, but when the clock approached zeros late in the game, the UT defense did make a difference. The Vols held back the flood on four of Troy's final five possessions."And that's the reason we won," Dooley said.

But even the coach knows 700-plus yards of total offense aren't allowed silver linings.

"It's bad," Dooley said. "It's a bad defense"

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn

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Comments » 93

txvolsfan writes:

I'm at a loss for words also!!!
just terrible!!!
TXVOLSFAN

agarn writes:

When is enough, enough?

Ironcity writes:

I will say this about Dooley, he sets records every week. 4 straight weeks QBs have established career highs in passing yards against us. This week we went for a biggy in giving up more yards then any UT team before now. This was hard to do due to the ineptitude of the previous three years. Whats scary is if Dooley remains with Sunseri we get Oregon next year and they routinely put up 600 yards against good teams. They could get a grand against us.

GloryDays writes:

721 total offensive yards for Troy is crazy. I almost believe Sal Sunseri is a alabama mole. No defense could be this bad, could they? Poor tackling, poor angles, bad schemes, it is almost like they are trying to be bad. Evidently Sal never told the defense about the draw play. Sal should be fired tonight, there is no excuse for 721 yards for Troy!

seofeed writes:

Ha! Love the picture of Sunseri

Lizardgrad89 writes:

It's rare for a team to set a record for yards on offense and given up on defense in the same day.

joevol33 writes:

The only and I mean only game we have a slight chance of winning is kentucky, and that's not a given seeing how they beat the vols last year with a WR starting at QB. We could score 100 and give up 105, pathetic.

TNVOLNTX writes:

Looking at that pic of Sunseri, all I can think of is "woop oop oop oop, hey Moe hey Larry."

OLROCKYTOP writes:

Isn't any way we become bowl eligible if the defense keeps playing this way. WORST DEFENSE IN THE COUNTRY!!! All of the coaching staff should be ashamed. There absolutely no excuse for this. Sunseri's defense = Clawson's offense, both are gonna cost a head coach his job.

BayLee writes:

With better players than Wilcox had last season, this has become the worst Tennessee defense EVER! Fire Sunseri tonight...promote anyone...the special teams coach...the head water boy...play a simple four man front, three linebackers and two deep safeties, every down, so they don't have to think...they will not give up 721 yds to anyone else...this group of defensive players cannot be that bad...its gotta be coaching...period.

6972 writes:

in response to OLROCKYTOP:

Isn't any way we become bowl eligible if the defense keeps playing this way. WORST DEFENSE IN THE COUNTRY!!! All of the coaching staff should be ashamed. There absolutely no excuse for this. Sunseri's defense = Clawson's offense, both are gonna cost a head coach his job.

Is there anybody out there really interested in a bowl game?

CarlChilders writes:

I wish I had applied for the DC job. I could have driven to K town on Saturdays and done the rest via webcam through the week. My fee? $750 per week. $500, if gas is covered. Who thinks I would do worse than what we have now? Could have saved UT a lot of money.

vols_fan_n_tx writes:

Is it me, or does Sunseri look like Buddy Hackett? The defense is definitely comical.

volbob writes:

7...2...1. That about sums it up. They are progressively getting worse as a unit, and it has to be the defensive coaches - all of them. I simply cannot believe that the same core group from last year is this bad this year - it has to be the staff. With the exception of inconsistent kicking, most other facets of the team have improved...as evidenced by the massive offensive output. I really don't think anyone on the defensive staff is competent in their job. Too late to fire them with 3 games to play, but Dooley sure as heck needs to step in and take over the defense. Sal is a joke, balanced only by the other clowns on that side of the ball. Anyone would have to be an improvement - take the friggin' O-line coach and put him over there for 3 games. Embarrassing is right...

volcycle writes:

I really like our offense. It is as good as any offense from the 90's. Dooley deserves the credit for getting it to this level. If he is allowed, he better get his defense moving in the right direction. I don't see how he can keep Sunseri. Maybe the 3-4 is a good scheme, but we either don't have the athletes to run it or our athletes are as dumb as a sack of hammers and can't understand it. Either way, a good defensive coordinator would have scrapped this long ago and done what works. Again, I like the foundation Dooley has laid with this offense, but this defense has got to be fixed.

BayLee writes:

in response to 6972:

Is there anybody out there really interested in a bowl game?

Umm, yes, the team NEEDS the extra two weeks of practice a bowl game gives them...even the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl..or whatever that bowl in Shreveport is currently called now. After two consecutive losing seasons, ANY post-season is a boon. Although considering the current state of the defense, they may only get two additional weeks worth of confused...

6972 writes:

in response to BayLee:

Umm, yes, the team NEEDS the extra two weeks of practice a bowl game gives them...even the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl..or whatever that bowl in Shreveport is currently called now. After two consecutive losing seasons, ANY post-season is a boon. Although considering the current state of the defense, they may only get two additional weeks worth of confused...

I really wished that I could think the two weeks would help them. I was hoping that the bye week this year would help them get ready for the next game. I just didn't see any improvement.
I admire your optimism.

FWBVol writes:

I'm 54 and have been a Vol fan since Doug Dickey was our coach. My dad is 80 and has followed Tennessee since the late 30s when the General was head coach and neither of us have seen anything like this.

There were 11 teams under the General that didn't give up 48 points in a season. Yes, I know it's a different game than it was back then, but in any generation the defense in inexcusable.

I had high hopes for Sunseri, and while I don't believe the mole theory and such, there is no doubt the guy has shown he's in over his head as a defensive coordinator. Sunseri might be one of best defensive minds in the country (and I'm not saying he is), but that doesn't always translate into being a great coordinator. I've had brilliant professors that were some of the best minds in their field that were lousy teachers because they were unable to communicate the subject to their students and this might be the case with Sal.

The offense is playing too well for us to be in close games sitting here with a 4-5 record. As others have posted, with an adequate defense we could easily be just a one or two-loss team.

If Dooley fires Sal it might safe his job. I say can Sunseri and bring someone else in to handle the defense. Give Dooley one more year to get things right and if things are much better in 2013 send Dooley packing.

I don't want to hear about all the offensive guys that might go pro because while it's true Bray, Patterson and Hunter are NFL type guys, I'm not sure they will bolt after this season.

Patterson is still learning to run routes. Hunter has had too many drops this year. And Bray still has times when he's not smart enough with the football. All three will probably go high in the draft if they declare this year, but they could all benefit from a senior season.

Even if they leave early, I think Worley and Petersen will give us a good presence at QB and Pig Howard, Vincent Dallas and the other young receivers will step up when Patterson and Hunter leave.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

Where the h&ll was Lathers in this game???He made ZERO plays..AJ made a lot of tackles but he was getting killed in the middle by not shucking off the blocks..Troy must have gained 150 yards on that silly little draw play..Troy did have a pretty good OLine but our front 4 must have skipped off season weight training because I haven't seen them get a push or rush against ANYBODY.. I don"t even know what to say about the secondary.Ive seen better coverage by HS teams. Literally every pass thrown is completed unless the QB Overthrows

MikeNPS writes:

Why is UT paying salaries to defensive coaches? Clearly the salaries are not being earned.

Southland writes:

fire sunseri today that is all I have to say Worst coached defense ever at UT I want to find the people that critized the Chief and punch them in the mouth we had it so good

massvolfan writes:

I noticed no quotes from Sunseri on utsports.com...was he injured and in the trainer's room??

CoverOrange writes:

in response to licknpromise777#651578:

Where the h&ll was Lathers in this game???He made ZERO plays..AJ made a lot of tackles but he was getting killed in the middle by not shucking off the blocks..Troy must have gained 150 yards on that silly little draw play..Troy did have a pretty good OLine but our front 4 must have skipped off season weight training because I haven't seen them get a push or rush against ANYBODY.. I don"t even know what to say about the secondary.Ive seen better coverage by HS teams. Literally every pass thrown is completed unless the QB Overthrows

I'm beginning to question the capability of that ex-Army (by two weeks) trainer dude. Seems every tackle is finished falling backwards giving another 2-3 yards. No body on defense can get off a standup block.

pcorange writes:

in response to 6972:

Is there anybody out there really interested in a bowl game?

I will be surprised if we become bowl eligible with this defense. We have a potent offense, but I don't know how the defense could be any worse than they are. Sunseri shouldn't be allowed to finish out the season. This is his mess. If we do make a bowl, it will be at 6-6 and maybe the Music City or Liberty Bowl. I'd rather another team went so the SEC doesn't get embarrassed.

pcorange writes:

in response to MikeNPS:

Why is UT paying salaries to defensive coaches? Clearly the salaries are not being earned.

Well put. Must be nice to be paid over $800k per year to do no more than Sunseri has. Looks like he is about to be $1.2M richer, too. That comes to $2M for one year of making Tennessee the laughing stock of the NCAA.

laraccoon writes:

well written article ,i dont know how some of those so called coaches sleep at night.

Orangepuddinskin writes:

I hate the title of this article. Maggitt and AJ have proven themselves under a real DC like Wilcox. I hate that our coaching staff is putting these kids through this. Lathers is stellar, and he is losing Sunday stock every weekend under Sunseri. Sal should be so ashamed of his performance this year. He should step down and forfeit any buyout. He is a linebackers coach that is in way over his head.

frblalack writes:

Exciting game! Too bad about our defense...or lack of defense. Thought Curt played well, D. Sentimore, A.J....but the rest seemed to take plays off regularly. We played just well enough to win. The defensive coordinator, cornerbacks coach, and secondary coach need to held accountable for some really pathetic effort. Losing J. Jackson and Brian Randolph totally demolished our secondary. On the whole even our linebacking play was terrible, the draw plays were consisently big gainers for Troy. You'd think after one, ONE, big draw play our d' would correct the problem. Maybe it is time to scrap the 3-4, move Sunseri to linebacker coach, and let the secondary & cornerback's coaches find employment elsewhere. These coaches obviously don't relate to the players, just fail to motivate them to play intelligently or both. 721 yards to Troy...48 points to Troy...NOT acceptable!

Vol since '65

Orangepuddinskin writes:

in response to 6972:

Is there anybody out there really interested in a bowl game?

Truth be told, I want the Bowl game for the guys that have been through 3 coaches. Dang, Lathers, Bartholomew, Dallas Thomas, and more. Those guys have suffered one hundred fold that us fans have. I hope they studied hard, because our administration has screwed them out of the NFL representation they expected when they signed their letters with UT.

usnavyvolfan__times_free_press_can_shove_it writes:

I don't think you're supposed to play a prevent defense every play of the game.

sjagold#565602 writes:

Oregon put 62 on little lane. Don't we go against the ducks soon

TheFuj writes:

721 total yards!! Someone should be fired tonight. This was against a 4-4 Troy team. Have never seen our defense worse.

BufordTJustice writes:

School record 721 yards allowed by our "defense" today. Against a 3rd place Sun-Belt team. At home. Dooley pees sitting down.

trl_x writes:

in response to sjagold#565602:

Oregon put 62 on little lane. Don't we go against the ducks soon

And 737 yards.

TrouserCough writes:

in response to OLROCKYTOP:

Isn't any way we become bowl eligible if the defense keeps playing this way. WORST DEFENSE IN THE COUNTRY!!! All of the coaching staff should be ashamed. There absolutely no excuse for this. Sunseri's defense = Clawson's offense, both are gonna cost a head coach his job.

You have watched this slop of a team all year and your thinking bowl game! The head coach hired this guy.

BigOrangeFever76 (Inactive) writes:

Based on Sunsorry's bigazz....how much tar and how many pound of feathers will it take to do the job? I will bring the tar and feathers if someone else can provide the rail to ride him out of town on.

hglover40#234154 writes:

Now we know why Sal was a career position coach. Every HC that must have interviewed him knew it except ONE!!! Dooley has brought in more talent and he has ran the program well and introduced the VFL - all good things and all wiped away with one bad hire!!! With a half decent DEF this yr he could have won Ga,Miss, and SC. IF he had UT at 7-2 - Coach of the YR!!! I bet he is SICK about hiring SAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

orange_eVOLution writes:

Not just Sal. Dump everything in the truck. It's done.

Wake me up when Gruden signs.

ULTIMATEVOLUNTEER writes:

High octane Florida???

DwayneElizondoMountainDewHerbertCamacho writes:

in response to FWBVol:

I'm 54 and have been a Vol fan since Doug Dickey was our coach. My dad is 80 and has followed Tennessee since the late 30s when the General was head coach and neither of us have seen anything like this.

There were 11 teams under the General that didn't give up 48 points in a season. Yes, I know it's a different game than it was back then, but in any generation the defense in inexcusable.

I had high hopes for Sunseri, and while I don't believe the mole theory and such, there is no doubt the guy has shown he's in over his head as a defensive coordinator. Sunseri might be one of best defensive minds in the country (and I'm not saying he is), but that doesn't always translate into being a great coordinator. I've had brilliant professors that were some of the best minds in their field that were lousy teachers because they were unable to communicate the subject to their students and this might be the case with Sal.

The offense is playing too well for us to be in close games sitting here with a 4-5 record. As others have posted, with an adequate defense we could easily be just a one or two-loss team.

If Dooley fires Sal it might safe his job. I say can Sunseri and bring someone else in to handle the defense. Give Dooley one more year to get things right and if things are much better in 2013 send Dooley packing.

I don't want to hear about all the offensive guys that might go pro because while it's true Bray, Patterson and Hunter are NFL type guys, I'm not sure they will bolt after this season.

Patterson is still learning to run routes. Hunter has had too many drops this year. And Bray still has times when he's not smart enough with the football. All three will probably go high in the draft if they declare this year, but they could all benefit from a senior season.

Even if they leave early, I think Worley and Petersen will give us a good presence at QB and Pig Howard, Vincent Dallas and the other young receivers will step up when Patterson and Hunter leave.

Do you ever get tired of being wrong?

proudveteran writes:

The answer to the coaching situation is to fire Sunseri and throw out some bigger bucks to get a defensive coordinator that can recruit as well. Obviously our offense is good enough to beat plenty of teams only to be wasted by the defense. Hopefully Sunseri has sense enough to offer his resignation. I have never believed the Athletic Director should be involved in assistant coaches, but this time Hart has to step in and tell Dooley that Sunseri has to go.

movinonup writes:

Fulmer would have never made it without Chavis and Cutt.....Dooley is never going to make it with Sunseri.

Classof72 writes:

"It's bad," Dooley said. "It's a bad defense"

It looked like "The French Mistake" number from 'Blazing Saddles', coordinated by Dom Deluise:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMK6lz...

arkyvol writes:

is this dooley's idea of a second season?

thevoice writes:

in response to pcorange:

Well put. Must be nice to be paid over $800k per year to do no more than Sunseri has. Looks like he is about to be $1.2M richer, too. That comes to $2M for one year of making Tennessee the laughing stock of the NCAA.

Yeah. And to think that Dooley will be paid an equivalent of ~$4M/yr after his buyout!

tennesseefan2 writes:

Vanderbilt will have a better defense than Troy.

papavol writes:

in response to Orangepuddinskin:

I hate the title of this article. Maggitt and AJ have proven themselves under a real DC like Wilcox. I hate that our coaching staff is putting these kids through this. Lathers is stellar, and he is losing Sunday stock every weekend under Sunseri. Sal should be so ashamed of his performance this year. He should step down and forfeit any buyout. He is a linebackers coach that is in way over his head.

I agree. We have just as much, if not more, talent than last year. Basically the same players. I guess there is a reason that Sal has been a positional coach for so long. Either he stinks as a coach or his scheme is just way too confusing. either way he is gone after this year. regardless if dooley goes or not. I feel like since this was dooley's decision, he should go to. He obviously has no clue what he's doing.. Chaney, pittman, grahm can stay. Its just such a shame, as you said, that these guys are getting shorted not because of ability, but because of poor coaching.

1986sugarbowl writes:

Even though I think Dooley should have already been told that this is his last year as a Vol, Dooley might could save his job again if he either demoting Sunsuri to LB's coach today, and hire a coordinator who is not coaching at the moment to take his place. What could hurt? Again, if i'm Hart I would have already told Dooley he's coaching his last games at UT. If Hart does keep them on because of money, which I think is bogus, but "if", a better defensive coordinator should be in the works today.

I once helped hire a DC that had a great interview, talked a good talk, had a great scheme on paper and but could not for the life of him make the right adjustments and stop a one legged cow if he tried. We were not accustomed to having more than 150 yards of total offense against us before our well respected coach left for a HC job, in which he deserved.

But I went to the AD and said, "We made a mistake!" "Great guy, but not DC". I was asked what do I think he could do? Other than teach a math class, possibly a good DB coach. I hated to break the news, but after 3 out of 4 losses and an average of 325 yards per game, we couldn't wait for this guy to get it together. I know HSFB is different than CFB but, winning is winning and loosing is loosing.

We promoted our LB coach to DC and our DC to DB coach. we dropped one more game, out of six and fared well in the playoffs, even though we did not win it all. But sometimes smaller pieces of the puzzle has to be dealt with to see the whole picture.

JonGrudensAgent writes:

If Dooley has a shred of self respect left, Sunseri is gone Monday.

For all the "Sunseri was a Hart hire" conspiracy theorists, I'd like to see one shred of evidence to prove it.

This was Dooley's hire and it's well last time for him to own his mistake.

snafu14u#241639 writes:

in response to sjagold#565602:

Oregon put 62 on little lane. Don't we go against the ducks soon

Sept 14th 2013. I'll be there.......@ Eugene,OR.......BonzaiVol

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