Dooley, players preview Tennessee vs. Akron
The first order of business for Tennessee's defense this week is determining whether or not there is a communication problem.
After Florida's late eruption mushroomed its offensive total to 555 yards last Saturday night, coach Derek Dooley said:
"Give Florida credit. They created a lot of communication breakdowns.''
Earlier this week, discussing an 80-yard touchdown run by Florida's Trey Burton in the Wildcat formation, linebacker Herman Lathers chimed in:
"Some guys just didn't get the check.''
On Wednesday, however, defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri vowed:
"There is no communication issue.''
Furthermore, said Sunseri, "Everybody can have their excuses and all that other (animal-generated fertilizer) that they want. The bottom line is we didn't execute what we had to do.''
This we know: Tennessee's 77th-ranked defense, allowing 408 yards per game, has some issues to correct.
Whether they are communication issues depends on who's doing the communicating.
My guess? Everybody's really on the same page. It's more semantics than disagreement.
Call it communication or call it fundamentals. Call some of it both.
In fact, Dooley did.
"Sometimes it's a communication issue,'' he said, "and sometimes it's fundamental football.''
Whatever, it falls under the heading of growing pains.
Every member of UT's defensive staff is new from last year. Sunseri was hired away from Alabama to install a 3-4 scheme and make the Vols more aggressive and disruptive.
To become more aggressive and disruptive generally requires becoming more complicated. There's the rub.
"In this defense,'' said Sunseri, "we're not gonna be vanilla and sit in that one front. That's not what this is all about.
"It's a growing process. When you're growing, you always have pains.''
Pains translate to chunk plays for the other guys.
Against North Carolina State in the opener, most of the chunks came early. Then the Vols settled in and effectively disrupted the Wolfpack with four interceptions and a sack/fumble.
Against Florida, the chunks came late rather than early. And, boy, were they huge chunks. An 80-yard TD; a 45-yard run to set up a TD; a 75-yard TD pass.
"We played darn good football for about three quarters,'' said Sunseri, "and then we had about eight or nine plays where it just went to (Tierra Del Fuego). That can't happen.''
The severity of growing pains inflicted by Florida generates discussion as to whether simplifying the defense might be a good idea. At least until some guys get more up to speed.
"We're gonna do what we have to do to win,'' said Sunseri, "and that's have enough calls in there to stop people.''
It would probably be a mistake to assume there won't be more growing pains Saturday night, even against 35-point underdog Akron,
The Zips might be easy pickings for Tennessee's offense, but Sunseri's guys will have their hands full getting off the field against a fast-paced offense that averages 88 plays a game.
But adjustments, communication, fundamentals, all those issues are correctable on the practice field.
And that's the preferable scenario.
Whether the Vols have enough talent, depth and speed, those issues can only be corrected through recruiting.