published Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Sal Sunseri fixing defense: Tennessee's collapse against Florida has coaches, players hard at work

University of Tennessee NCAA college football defensive coordinator  Sal Sunseri talks to reporters at the indoor practice facilty on the school campus in Knoxville, Tenn.
University of Tennessee NCAA college football defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri talks to reporters at the indoor practice facilty on the school campus in Knoxville, Tenn.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Sal Sunseri is a demanding football coach.

Tennessee's first-year defensive coordinator also isn't one to sugarcoat things during practice or a game, and he carried that into his weekly meeting with the media after the Volunteers finished practice on Wednesday morning.

Why Tennessee allowed 555 yards and 13 plays of 14 or more yards in the loss to Florida last week is easy to explain in Sunseri's view.

"The bottom line was we didn't execute what we needed to do," he said. "Everybody can have excuses and all that other bull-[expletive] that they want. The bottom line is we didn't execute what we had to do.

"We played darn good football for about three quarters. Then all of the sudden we had about eight or nine plays there where it just went to [expletive]. It can't happen."

It did, and Tennessee's defense is moving forward from a disappointing performance, one that Sunseri called "a little bit of a setback." Tennessee allowed just 176 first-half yards, held the Gators to field goals on a pair of trips inside the Vols' 10 and allowed Florida to convert only three of 13 first-half attempts. Any good the Vols' defense did, though, was wiped away by Florida's big plays.

"It's not just one person out there that's got to identify a formation or identify a person," Sunseri said. "They've all got to be looking at people. They've all got to be calling things out and communicating stuff, and that's what didn't happen at that time on the field.

"We didn't execute that part of it."

There were still times when Tennessee had players in position to make plays. The Vols failed to make tackles in the open field on Florida's two long touchdowns. On Jeff Driskel's two touchdown passes, Tennessee had players right in the face of the Florida quarterback.

Coach Derek Dooley said earlier in the week that Tennessee's coaches pushed the envelope too far with the complexity of the defense, which caused some confusion.

"I think coach has some confidence in us to make those calls," cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. "I think this week we're going to tighten it down just a little bit, but we're still going to play real aggressive. We're going to go out there and fly around and try to make plays.

"Right now we expect to have no trouble with it, but to be realistic, we're not going to be perfect out there. Our scheme is tough. We run a lot of plays, so the main thing is just not having as [many] errors as we did at the Florida game."

Tennessee's players have accepted that there are going to be mistakes. Even as their comfort level grows in the new defense, mental errors and missed assignments still are going to happen. The key, players say, is cutting down on them and, to some degree, keeping them from being as dramatic as they were against Florida.

As to any timetable on when they'll reach that point, linebacker Jacques Smith there is no expectation.

"The way we prepare for games is minimize mistakes and know everything that the offense is going to give to us," Smith said. "The things that do happen wrong, that's on ourselves. It's really just maturity and how we're sill growing, because this is a new defense.

"I'm sure it's going to come around. I'm not putting any pressure on us and I don't think less of our defense because of the little mistakes that we made, because we're a great defense and we all know it. We've just got to minimize our mistakes."

The Vols also must makes plays when they have the chance. Marsalis Teague has to push Trey Burton out of bounds to keep that 80-yard touchdown from happening. Smith must get Driskel to the ground when he has that opportunity.

Tennessee's coaches also must put their players in the positions to make those plays even more.

"We could have had some people in better positions," Sunseri said. "Give credit to [Burton] because he made that play happen. We had people there, and we didn't get him on the ground.

"We're going to do what we have to do. That's to win and have enough calls in there to stop people. That's what we've done."

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

Other National Articles

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

advertisement
advertisement

Find a Business

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.