Stung by an embarrassing performance Saturday against Troy, Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley has vowed to take a more active role in supervising the defense this week.
"I'm coming out of the offensive room and putting all my attention on defense," Dooley said Monday during his weekly news conference.
Tennessee allowed 721 yards of total offense to the Trojans in a 55-48 victory. The Vols (4-5, 0-5 SEC) finish the season with three consecutive SEC opponents, starting with Missouri (4-5, 1-5) on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.) at Neyland Stadium.
Dooley cautioned that there are no simple fixes for Tennessee's defense, which is ranked 112th of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams (115th against the pass and 90th against the run). But he said there would be changes both in game-planning and game-day management.
Embattled defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri might move to the press box to coach. Other coaches will be encouraged to contribute to the game plan.
"There's going to be a lot more input from everybody on what we need to do, and we'll do some different things on game day with how we implement it," Dooley said. "We're going to make a lot of changes, but there are no easy answers when you are playing the way we're playing."
Why is Dooley becoming more involved now, in Week 9 of a season in which the defense has gotten progressively worse? That's a fair question, Dooley admitted.
"It probably would have been reactionary if I had done it four weeks ago. But then you look back and maybe I should have," he said. "I'm not here saying I'm a guru. I'm not ... It's just another eye and another set of ears and another voice. It'll give me a little more comfort in saying, 'I don't want that.' "
Asked about the criticism directed toward Sunseri, the Vols' first-year coordinator, Dooley trotted out a reference to Bruce Hornsby's 1986 hit, "The Way It Is."
"When you're in this position you are going to get criticized when you don't get results," Dooley said. "It doesn't have anything to do with what's fair or right, it's just the way it is. Like Bruce Hornsby and the Range, that's just the way it is."
Tennessee's defense was ranked 28th in the nation in 2011 under coordinator Justin Wilcox, who left after the season for Washington. The Vols haven't approached that success under Sunseri.
Some of the struggles stem from Dooley's decision to use an up-tempo offense this season.
"The reality is if we were playing our offense the way we played last year, (Troy) wouldn't have 700 yards. They would have had 75 plays instead of 100," Dooley said. "I was prepared when we went to this (up-tempo offense) that we weren't going to be as good on defense."
Still, Dooley said he knows even that partial explanation is unsatisfying.
"You are what your bubble gum card is," said Dooley, referring to the statistics on the back of sports cards. "Where are we on the bubble gum card? The stats are what we are right now. Do I think we're better than that? Of course I do. But we're not playing like it, so we're not."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.