This season is on the brink for the Tennessee Volunteers. At 3-2 and 0-2 in the SEC, any chance of the Volunteers playing after December 31 is slipping away quickly. The biggest issue facing the Volunteers in their final seven games of the regular season is a defense that seems powerless in the face of an offense that knows what it’s doing.
In the Volunteers’ first SEC game and first test of the season, they faced their division rivals, the Florida Gators. The game was back-and-forth, but in the middle of the third quarter, the Volunteers held a touchdown lead. Then, the Gators’ defense began making stops and the Volunteers couldn’t answer in kind. In the end, the Gators outscored the Volunteers 24-0 during the final twenty-two minutes of play and cruised to a win. For the game, the Volunteers gave up 555 yards of offense, with the Gators rushing for 336 of those yards.
Two weeks later, the Volunteers went down to Athens, Georgia to take on the Georgia Bulldogs. In their second conference game of the season, it didn’t go any better for the Volunteers’ defense. The silver lining was that the defense kept Tennessee in the game by forcing three Bulldog turnovers in the first half. This erased a 30-10 hole that the Volunteers dug themselves into courtesy of the defense.
However, in the second half, the tune remained the same as Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley continued to gobble up yards with big runs for the Bulldogs while Aaron Murray was feeling no pressure when he dropped back to pass. The Volunteers’ defense ended up surrendering 51 points and 560 yards of offense.
One is coincidence, twice means a trend is developing. And no team wants their trend on defense to be giving up over 500 yards and failing to perform well in the second half. Remember, it was in the second half that the Gators ran away from the Volunteers, and it was in the second half against the Bulldogs that the Volunteers’ defense could give their offense no support whatsoever in a game that was tied at halftime.
This is a big deal because the SEC prides itself on having not only good defenses, but great defenses. And even if you’re not traditionally great, you can be great in any year and still make a run.
Look at the Gators: since the last year of Urban Meyer‘s time as head coach, their defense has left a lot to be desired, but they have played very inspired football on that side of the ball so far this season, and right now are undefeated and inside the top ten.
What’s right in front of the Volunteers is a three-game stretch that sees them play (in order) the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, Alabama Crimson Tide, and South Carolina Gamecocks in straight weeks. It’s these three games that will decide the Volunteers fate. Either they will improve on defense and give themselves a chance, or their season will be almost over entering November.