Vols await tougher tests after posting shutout

Tennessee's Daniel Hood (97) dives for yardage after intercepting a pass during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Austin Peay on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee's Daniel Hood (97) dives for yardage after intercepting a pass during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Austin Peay on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, center, and defensive coordinator John Jancek, left, react during an NCAA college football game against Austin Peay on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 45-0. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, center, and defensive coordinator John Jancek, left, react during an NCAA college football game against Austin Peay on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 45-0. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

Tennessee's Daniel Hood (97)  intercepts a pass during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Austin Peay on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee's Daniel Hood (97) intercepts a pass during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Austin Peay on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee understands it will take more than a 45-0 shutout of Austin Peay to prove that its defense has regained respectability.

The memories of last season are too fresh.

Tennessee's defense also delivered a strong performance in last year's season opener, as it produced four interceptions and a safety in a 35-21 victory over North Carolina State. The Volunteers went on to give up more points per game that season than any Tennessee defense since 1893.

So even though the defense took a clear step forward Saturday, the Volunteers realize they still have room to improve.

"We've just got to be very critical of ourselves when we come in and watch film," linebacker Dontavis Sapp said. "We got a shutout, but there are always things you can work on and things you can fix. It's always that way because, you know, we didn't give up zero yards. There's always something you can get better at."

Tennessee's last shutout was a 27-0 victory over Middle Tennessee on Nov. 5, 2011. One week later, the Volunteers lost 49-7 to an Arkansas team coached by Bobby Petrino. They'll hope to have more success Saturday when they again follow a shutout by facing Petrino, now the coach at Western Kentucky.

Petrino, regarded as one of college football's top offensive minds, led the Hilltoppers to a 35-26 victory over Kentucky in his Western Kentucky debut.

"We've known for a while that they were going to be a really good team," Tennessee nose tackle Daniel Hood said. "Last time we played that coach, he beat us pretty bad down in Arkansas. So we owe him a good one."

The week after the Western Kentucky game, Tennessee travels to No. 3 Oregon, which gained a school-record 772 yards Saturday in a 66-3 blowout of Nicholls.

Although the schedule is about to get much tougher, Tennessee's defense still has reason for optimism.

Tennessee's defensive players said throughout the offseason that they would benefit from the move back to a 4-3 scheme after a disastrous experiment with the 3-4 last year under former coordinator Sal Sunseri. Players believe the new system is simpler and helps them play faster.

Austin Peay reached Tennessee territory only twice Saturday and was held scoreless for the first time since a 54-0 loss to Drake on Sept. 24, 2005. That's an encouraging sign for Tennessee, which struggled to put away heavy underdogs last season because of its defensive deficiencies. The Vols were tied at halftime with Akron before pulling away for a 47-26 win and gave up 721 yards — the most ever by a Tennessee opponent — in a 55-48 victory over Troy.

"It's nice to bounce back from what we had done last year and actually play a good defensive game where we held someone and shut them out and not have another Akron situation," Hood said.

Tennessee did just fine while giving freshman cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Malik Foreman major roles. Sutton cracked the starting lineup in his Tennessee debut. Foreman became the first Tennessee freshman to intercept a pass in a season opener since Dwayne Goodrich in 1996.

Those cornerbacks and the rest of the defense weren't tested very much against Austin Peay. Tennessee coach Butch Jones praised the way his defense worked during the offseason, but he's eager to see how these guys produce in tougher circumstances.

"What is going to happen and how are we going to respond when we give up a touchdown?" Jones said. "That is the mark of a great defense, they forget easily and move on."

Tennessee's defense didn't face much adversity Saturday. Western Kentucky and Oregon should provide plenty of it the next two weeks.

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Comments » 3

govols21#632403 writes:

The Vols played virtually a mistake-free game and that's extremely important. Good discipline can win a ball game just as poor discipline can certainly lose a game. Although the opponent wasn't a powerhouse by any means, the solid execution all evening shows that this team has had some serious coaching and that is going to pay off big time as we move along.

OrangePride writes:

Yes, the competition curve is about to get steeper every week. But VOL fans everywhere can be very pleased that this team looked very poised and well coached. We will know more about our weaknesses (especially the secondary) after next Saturday. I fully expect a big time air attack, so these coaches will be working overtime to find ways to pressure the QB and provide help to our younger DB's. I expect to win, and it might well come down to special teams play where I think we will have the edge. Petrino gave us a good "pants down spanking in the supermarket" humiliation last time; but this time it ain't Arkansas talent. Let's return the favor!! GO VOLS!!

bUTch__please writes:

Great to see 0 penalties. That in itself for a new offense, pups in the secondary and first game out speaks volumes. That has almost nothing to do with the level of competition. To echo other posters, the major difference in the players execution and obvious confidence from last year was absolutely shocking.

Go Team #117!

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