Dooley on Vols' defense, offense and special teams
Tennessee's open-date week apparently was a resounding success. The team honed its fundamental skills, avoided injuries and didn't have anyone arrested.
It didn't reinvent itself, though.
The Vols won't hit the halfway mark of the season until they play Mississippi State in Starkville late Saturday night. But their identity is firmly established.
And it's hardly surprising.
You knew in preseason the offense was promising. You also knew the kicking game was questionable and the defense was potentially vulnerable.
Those preseason expectations have been confirmed through five games, especially in the last two against SEC teams. The Vols have missed more extra-point kicks (four) than any other team in the conference. They probably would be giving up big plays at a school-record pace — if the school kept such a record. They're also averaging more than 500 yards per game in total offense.
Such imbalance isn't the exception in the SEC. Texas A&M is first in offense and eighth in defense. Alabama and LSU are one-two in defense, but eighth and ninth in offense.
Balance isn't crucial. Playing to your strengths is.
No one does that better than No. 1 Alabama, which relies on its defense to make plays and its offense not to make mistakes.
So what if the Tide ranks eighth in total offense. It leads the conference in fewest turnovers (three fumbles and no interceptions).
Tennessee must lean in a different direction if it hopes to turn this into a successful season.
The extra-point kicking might become more proficient, but neither Michael Palardy nor Derrick Brodus will become Caleb Sturgis. The defense might reduce its number of chase scenes per game, but it won't suddenly strike fear into anyone's offense.
Tennessee could improve in those areas, but you can't expect it to excel. That's where the offense comes in.
As productive as the Vols have been offensively, they have hardly maximized their potential. Their corps of big-play wide receivers needs a surer grip. Quarterback Tyler Bray needs to make better decisions under duress.
And the coaching staff needs to realize it's not going to win many games with defense and kicking.
Late in the third quarter, with UT trailing Georgia 51-37, coach Derek Dooley called on his placekicker of the day to attempt a 28-yard field goal, rather than go for a fourth-and-5 from the Georgia 10. Even if Brodus had converted the kick, the Vols still would have been down 11 points with a quarter to play.
As it turned out, Georgia didn't score in the fourth quarter and even
tually won 51-44. That probably said more about the Bulldogs' conservative play calling than UT's defense. They threw only once on first down the rest of the game — for a 13-yard completion.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze demonstrated a better understanding of his team's strengths and weaknesses, even though his strategy didn't work out Saturday against Texas A&M. Facing fourth-and-an-inch and holding a four-point lead, Ole Miss went for the first down from midfield.
The Aggies tackled running back Jeff Scott behind the line, then quickly drove for the game-winning touchdown. But Texas A&M also breezed 99 yards in only three plays for another score against the same defense.
Distance doesn't matter much with bad defenses. For example, take three of Georgia's scoring drives against UT — one play, 75 yards; two plays, 56 yards; three plays, 81 yards.
Never mind if Tennessee's defense improves somewhat. The Vols still will have a better chance of matching those scores than preventing them.