KNOXVILLE -- The words had to sting, especially after a 41-10 victory.
Yet there was an exasperated Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, his voice full of anything but joy following Saturday's lopsided win over Buffalo, telling the media, "On defense, it's the same old story. We play great defense for 51 plays and we give up two plays for 108 yards. Somehow we've got to eliminate that."
In truth, only one of those reached the end zone or produced points, Bulls quarterback Chazz Johnson scooting around end for a 68-yard score that briefly pulled Buffalo within 14-7 with 3:21 left in the first period.
Said former Ooltewah High all-stater Jacques Smith, who misread the play on the touchdown run: "It's a single read. It happens. Next question."
But Dooley isn't letting it pass so easily. He knows that the Vols limited their first three opponents to an average of 3 yards a play for 208 of 217 plays. However, nine plays in those games went for an average of 46.4 yards and produced a total of 45 points.
"We had two mental errors on the long runs and just total mental breakdowns," Dooley said. "It was mental errors and then nobody else running to the ball to make up for it."
On one hand, the Vols clearly understand the coach's frustration.
"We really do have to eliminate big plays," said linebacker Austin Johnson, who had six tackles against the Bulls. "That's been our biggest thing so far. It's our responsibilities as players. We're supposed to make tackles. We've got to cut those out, and we've got a rough road ahead of us."
Then again, said senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson, "Don't let one day bring down your entire week. We are getting better. I think we made fewer mistakes today than we have all year."
Indeed, for all of Dooley's frustration about those two plays for 108 yards, the Vols surrendered just 156 yards on 51 snaps, right at that 3-yards-per-carry average.
And the Vols twice shut down the Bulls after fumbled kickoffs, allowing no points despite Buffalo recovering the first fumble on the UT 21 and the second on the UT 23.
"We've fixed a lot of stuff from two weeks ago," Jackson saud. "We're getting there."
Now they get Georgia on Saturday, followed by No. 1 LSU on Oct. 15 before traveling to No. 3 Alabama the next week.
Said Smith of the defense's determination to improve: "It's always in your head, just trying to shrink as many of those negative plays as we can. If we can erase those mistakes, then the day would come, I guess, when [the opponent] would be scoreless."
And Dooley wouldn't have anything to be upset about.
At least not on defense.