Defensively, the Vols improved a lot from Georgia State to BYU. Saturday night, Tennessee was able to get off the field when they needed to, not counting the bonehead play at the end of regulation that resulted in a game-tying field goal. Other than that, the defense did their job.
Against Georgia State, the Vols only pressured Dan Ellington a couple of times. They sacked him twice (once on a corner blitz) and recorded 3 hurries, but that was not where Tennessee struggled. They were gashed on the ground, giving up 213 rushing yards on 53 attempts. They did have 6 TFLs, but gave up 38 points to a team that only won 2 games the prior year.
Against BYU, the defense stepped up. They did not have any takeaways, but forced 6 punts (3 more than the week before) and got after BYU’s Zach Wilson all night. They recorded 4 sacks and 7 hurries and only gave up 81 rushing yards in regulation. The 64-yard pass with just seconds to go was probably the most important play of the game, but the Vols left way too many points on the board to put the blame on the defense.
Tennessee has a ton of new faces on the defensive side of the ball. They have a brand new defensive line, a true freshman middle linebacker (Henry To’oto’o) and a true freshman corner (Warren Burrell). They are also missing 4 starters from last year’s team. CB Bryce Thompson is suspended indefinitely, DL Emmit Gooden is out for the season with a torn ACL, CB Baylen Buchanan is out with a spine injury, and LB Daniel Bituli is recovering from a minor knee procedure.
The defense has a long way to go, but they look like they are improving week to week. They need to do a better job of being consistent and creating turnovers to help out the offense, but they have a lot of young talent to build on. The Vols are also expected to get a lot better once their leading tackler from the past two seasons, Daniel Bituli returns to action. Look for Pruitt to have his defense ready to go this week to get one last tune up before heading to the Swamp.
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