Vols defense comes up with some big plays

Vols defense comes up with some big plays

September 4th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE -- The points allowed looked somewhat pedestrian. And facing a Montana offense that had lost its most productive rusher and starting quarterback from last season, the Tennessee defense gave up 346 yards in a 42-16 victory.

The Grizzlies even wound up with 18 first downs, but one less than the Vols' 19.

But take away Montana's 80-yard scoring pass late in the first half and those stats change dramatically. Without that single play, the Griz would have finished with less than 275 yards offense and single-digit points.

Without that single play, the paperwork looks pretty impressive for a Big Orange bunch that returned only one 2010 starter along the defensive front in Malik Jackson, lost its best defender overall -- Jantzen Jackson -- for disciplinary reasons, and its emotional leader in Nick Reveiz.

"Things got a little edgy sometimes with their no-huddle, but I thought we were much improved defensively," said UT coach Derek Dooley. "For the most part, we gave up one play on defense."

Senior Malik Jackson, who finished with three total tackles, agreed.

"I think we're just together more," he said. "We kind of understand the scheme that Coach [Justin] Wilcox wants, and understand what he's looking for in a defense."

And senior defensive back Art Evans made sure to erase that 80-yard play by returning an interception 37 yards for a touchdown early in the third period.

"Give Art a lot of credit," Dooley said. "He had every reason to shut it down last season, but he never did. He came to practice every day and worked as hard as he could to make us better. You could say he made the play of the game tonight."

But he didn't make the only play. Senior linebacker Daryl Vereen led the Vols in total tackles with six. Former Ooltewah star Jacques Smith had two tackles for losses. Marquis Teague recovered a fumble. Defensive end Marlon Walls forced two quarterback hurries.

Said Dooley: "I thought Vereen was really good. There's an example of another senior who doesn't make mistakes, who's where he's supposed to be, makes the most of his opportunities."

It will be different a week from now against a Cincinnati team that scored 72 points against Austin Peay on Saturday. No other team on the Vols' schedule plays in the FCS division. No other team will come into Neyland Stadium with far fewer players and far less talent.

But the best part of Saturday was that the players seem to already know that.

Said Smith: "I'm always looking for improvement. We can get a lot better."