KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee's search for answers on defense has continued, but the only result has been a continuing slide down the national rankings.
The Volunteers seem to be close to running out of answers, too.
After surrendering 510 yards and 38 points to South Carolina, first-year coordinator Sal Sunseri's defense is down to 99th nationally in yards allowed.
"The reality is our statistics. We're not going to sit there and defend anything we're doing because statistically we can't," third-year head coach Derek Dooley said at his weekly news conference Monday. "I think the important thing is -- and it's what I told Sal -- that we've got to get our focus on solutions and playing better next week. That's all you can put your energy on.
"You can't look back and beat yourself up. You can't lose confidence in what we're doing and how we're teaching it. We've got to work together to find solutions as players and as coaches to play better, and that's all you can put your energy on."
Again Dooley diagnosed the problem as a combination of things, including coaches making the wrong call or not teaching it correctly and players not knowing what to do or not executing despite knowing what to do. The target is the 15 "disaster" plays per game where most of the damage is being done. The Gamecocks ran up 15 plays of 15 or more yards Saturday.
"Generally, when you are statistically where we are, it's not one thing -- it's everything," Dooley said. "There's no excuse for the way we're playing. We should be playing better than we are."
When asked about Sunseri's ineffectiveness to communicate and teach his defense, Dooley called it "a pretty harsh statement" and declined to place blame solely on his offseason hire. He said safeties coach Josh Conklin, a former defensive coordinator at The Citadel who coaches from the booth during games, would continue to give "more and more" input on calls. Though he said after the game he spends "all my hours" working with the offense and special teams, Dooley said he'll continue to increase his involvement and dialogue with the defensive staff.
"I think the biggest thing is making sure we're all on the same page within the staff of what's too much, what's not enough, how are we coaching that in the back end," he said. "I'm going to continue to do that to make sure that our guys are doing the best job they can for the players. We're here to find solutions to help the players the best way we can.
"They can play better than they're playing, and that's my responsibility as the head coach to make sure our coaches are doing the best job they can."
Hart of the matter
The lone question Dooley received Monday pertaining to his job security was on his relationship and communication with Dave Hart, Tennessee's second-year athletic director.
"We talk every week, more than once a week," Dooley said. "Dave's been great, been very professional. He obviously wants to know my take on where we are, what we're doing well, what we're not doing well and how we're going to fix it."
Dooley hasn't ducked questions about his future, and he even joked Monday that he visited "every day" with the football coach as athletic director at Louisiana Tech, where he handled both jobs.
"I think it's important every week that you have dialogue with your boss when you're in season," he said. "It's something that I've always wanted to do, whether we were winning or losing. I think it's important for the boss to have that kind of dialogue so you have a real pulse of what's going on."
Dooley said quarterback Tyler Bray played the best game of his career against South Carolina. The junior was 27-of-43 passing for 368 yards and four touchdowns. Dooley said Bray's two late turnovers weren't products of being loose with the ball, as the coach said of the QB after the Alabama loss.
Tennessee's 472 yards were the most allowed by the Gamecocks since Auburn and quarterback Cam Newton torched them for 589 yards in the 2010 Southeastern Conference title game. The Gamecocks entered the game ninth nationally in total defense. Only four teams in the past 21 games had gained more than 400 yards against them.
"He played his best game -- it's hard to say he didn't -- against that kind of quality opponent," Dooley said. "I told Tyler today, 'You're one week away from getting hung at quarterback again.' That's how it is at that position.
"Now let's start over, prepare the way you prepared and go out and perform again."
Dooley said Tennessee's outside linebackers "hurt us a lot" by being undisciplined on zone-read options and in keeping quarterbacks contained. Tennessee plays Troy's spread offense this week. The Trojans rang up 572 yards on Mississippi State in September but lost to Florida Atlantic Saturday. ... After doing a "good job" replacing Prentiss Waggner at cornerback in the fourth quarter, true freshman Daniel Gray must "invest in learning what to do," Dooley said. ... Right guard Zach Fulton (ankle) and tailback Rajion Neal (ankle) are day-to-day, and the Vols will know more about their status for Troy after today's practice.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...