Tennessee vs Georgia Tech: Facts and Opinions • The Defense

photo by Bill Foster

Continuing with our new Facts/Opinions series, we will now take a look at the Tennessee defensive…performance(?)…from Monday night’s face off with the Ga Tech Flexbone offense.

 

FACT: Tennessee’s defense got absolutely…trashed…by the Flexbone.

In reality, we don’t have a great idea what Tennessee has on defense, because they foolishly scheduled Georgia Tech. Nobody should play Georgia Tech if they don’t have to. The triple option that Paul Johnson runs is straight up black magic. It’s evil. It doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t feel, it only eats. It is glacier slow, and then lightning fast and hypnotically repetitious. And it ate Tennessee’s face all day long. You can prepare, study and scheme for it, which Tennessee clearly did. The Vols came out looking informed and prepared. And it didn’t matter. You have to have an incredible scout team to simulate the simultaneous speed and patience it takes to go 4 quarters against the flexbone. Tennessee’s defense played aggressive, motivated football all day long and still gave up rushing yards on a traumatic level. Paul Johnson’s triple option humiliated Vanderbilt last year (the same Vanderbilt that beat Tennessee). They beat Georgia. They beat Kentucky.  So, as dramatic and upsetting as it was to watch the triple option turn our defense into a wet Kleenex, the defense Shoop ran and the paltry amount of defense we got was …magically…mysteriously…somehow enough to win the game. Pinch yourself: we gave up what may as well have been a GAZILLION yards…and still won. And that’s a very important fact.

 

OPINION: Tennessee’s new Defensive Ends are ready for Prime Time.

As difficult as Tennessee is finding it to replace Cam Sutton with a new, quality cornerback, the situation at Defensive End is sweeter. Jonathan Kongbo finished with 7 tackles and was all over the field, looking active and aggressive, unlike during his growing pains and detour to DT in 2016. A few more tweaks to his pursuit and he will finally be as scary as advertised. Darrell Taylor was simply ready. We heard throughout the summer and camp that he was a monster, and he is. Mr WGWTFA was violent and disruptive off the end, and spent most of the day W’ing TFA. Players like Derek Barnett only come around so often, but Tennessee put in the work to make sure the defensive end position didn’t experience a vacuum in his absence. The Jones regime gets mixed reviews on their player development, but in this case, the starting DE tandem coupled with a finally healthy Kyle Phillips, should get them at least an A-.

 

FACT: Tennessee called (again).. Colton Jumper answered (again).

Colton Jumper’s name may as well be “Colton Jumper ughhh” based on his circumstantial playing time. When fans here Colton Jumper’s name, it has most often meant that MLB Darrin Kirkland Jr has suffered yet another injury. Forget that the former walk-on has been jerked around, all over the linebacker corps, eventually learning every position, and always answering the call and Tennessee’s moment of need. The Ginger Avenger played well during Kirkland’s absence in 2016, finishing with 61 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. In the weeks leading up to the game against Georgia Tech, Jumper hadn’t even been preparing to play middle linebacker, but injuries forced coaches to call on him, not just to start, but to lead the defense against a very complicated GT offense. And, like always, CJ answered the call and played much better than his natural skill set might suggest. Playing mike linebacker against the triple option is a true test of endurance, concentration, and football intelligence. Jumper finished with 18 tackles, and (thanks to Georgia Tech keeping UT’s defense on the field all day), The Ginger Avenger now trails only fellow backup-Vol Daniel Bituli in the entire Southeastern Conference in tackles. Not bad for a scrub nobody wants to see.

OPINION: For better or for worse, it’s time to experiment at Corner.

You can see much of Tennessee’s new talent finding themselves across the offense and defense, but the biggest current red flag is Cornerback. Replacing Cam Sutton was never going to be easy. Coaches want it to happen for Justin Martin so badly, but it’s more and more apparent to this writer that his desire to be a star personality has sadly eclipsed his ability to develop at corner. Paul Johnson knew to go right at Justin Martin, and if the team that barely throws knows to go at Justin Martin, the teams Tennessee will face in a few weeks will shred him. When an offense would rather come after you than to throw at Emmanuel Moseley, you are in a bad spot. The fix here was supposed to be Shaq Wiggins. If his hip is anywhere near ready, the Indiana State game should be his baptism of fire. Tennessee needs his sea legs intact and they need them intact NOW. If his hip isn’t ready, it’s time to focus on either Baylen Buchanan, Cheyenne Labruzza or Shawn Shamburger. Having both corner liabilities on the field is going to make for rough days as the Vols enter SEC play.

 

photo by Bill Foster

FACT: We haven’t seen the actual Tennessee Defense yet.

Bob Shoop and his Tennessee defense will finish this year 1-0 against the triple option. Preparing for the triple option is a different world and that world is now behind Tennessee. We haven’t seen them run one play of normal defense, and they won’t even need to run anything specific this coming Saturday against FCS blood sacrifice Indiana State. If they had lost to Georgia Tech, this wouldn’t feel like a big opportunity, but the fact is, Tennessee gets to go into their match up with Florida without putting their defensive identity on tape. And that is a big deal. The Gators had to go full steam to try and even keep up with Michigan. Granted, a heavy batch of their players were suspended, it’s still unlikely that Florida has an entire separate playbook for their match up with Tennessee. So, as bad as the Georgia Tech game may have felt to you, Tennessee showed guts, gets a W in the W column, nothing in the L column, an easy week to learn and heal and doesn’t have to show off any of its defensive ideas before the first game that really counts.

 

BONUS OPINION: GIVE PAUL BAIN (from Champs) A DANG SCHOLARSHIP.

Here’s a look at our Offensive Facts/Opinions from the season opener.

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