KNOXVILLE - Tennessee has the worst defense in the Southeastern Conference under first-year coordinator Sal Sunseri.
It's been a big reason why the Volunteers are winless in the SEC, and after South Carolina became the latest offense to roll up 500 yards and more than 35 points, third-year coach Derek Dooley has had to discuss the struggles of his defense this week.
After Tuesday's practice, the coach explained the risks he weighed in deciding to change to a more complicated system in a year in which he needed to win games.
"I've never made a decision since I've been here on the next game," he said. "I've always tried to make the right decision for the program long-term, and that doesn't mean you're not trying to win the short-term, but I wanted to get somebody and some system that when we get this thing going, we don't want to make another change. Is there risk? Of course it is.
"Everything in our profession's risky, but you try to weigh the risks offset with some of the things you think are not risky at all and you go with it and you don't look back."
The Vols are 99th nationally in yards allowed per game and 101st in scoring defense. Tennessee has surrendered 37, 51, 41, 44 and 38 points in its five SEC losses. Not surprisingly, Sunseri has taken plenty of heat for the problems, and thus Dooley has taken heat for hiring him in January to replace Justin Wilcox, who took the same position at Washington after two years in Knoxville.
"I did [weigh a risk]," Dooley said. "There's more factors that went into it than just the scheme. I think there were going to be growing pains no matter who you brought in because it's new, even with a 4-3.
"Probably a lot less growing pains if you kept it a real simple system. Would we have been playing better? Probably so, but then there's some other factors that went into it as far being in this league, understanding the league, having a belief in what we're doing and how we're doing it and that kind of team-staff unity and loyalty.
"You always make decisions based on what happened last, and you try to correct what happened last to make sure the same mistake doesn't happen. Usually when you do, you're presented with some new things that you didn't anticipate or hope would be there.
"I think it's fair to say we've had a lot more growing pains, whatever you want to call them, than we anticipated. Look at the numbers. They don't lie."
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 ...