Tennessee Vols see chance for slew of sacks

Tennessee Vols see chance for slew of sacks

September 12th, 2012 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- All Tennessee's defense needed was a look at the box score.

The number probably jumped so far off the page that the Volunteers' defenders entered their first video work of the week with anticipation running high.

The Vols hope to replicate what Texas A&M did to Florida last weekend, when the Aggies sacked Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel eight times.

"I'd say we're licking our chops for every quarterback," Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson said after Tuesday morning's practice. "They were hustling after the ball. I know he's a sophomore [in his] first year of really playing, so we're trying to get at him and hit him a lot."

Tennessee has four sacks through two games, which is a fourth of what they had all of last season. The Vols hit North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon a dozen times and neared a similar mark against Georgia State's Ben McLane. The 6-foot-4, 237-pound Driskel is a better athlete and more dangerous runner than both previous opposing quarterbacks.

Though they've had success getting to the quarterback, the Vols have had some issues with discipline in their pass lanes, an area that's surely being stressed throughout this week.

"We're getting some good pressure with the front four, but it's a little bit like everything," coach Derek Dooley said. "There's times when you go, 'Great job,' and there's times where we screw up the game or we lose our pass-rush lane. It's a work in progress, but I think it's much improved from a year ago.

"This game's going to be a little different. We've got to keep that quarterback in the pocket because he runs well. They're going to be headbutting us running the ball."

The Gators are a much better and more committed rushing team than either N.C. State or Georgia State, but the Vols will be looking to attack when Florida does pass. Despite the sacks, Driskel was 13-of-16 for 162 passing yards in the 20-17 win at Texas A&M.

Florida coach Will Muschamp believes Driskel is improving with experience, and the former five-star recruit already has notched a road win in a hostile environment.

"We definitely noticed Texas A&M's pass rush in the game and how it affected Jeff," linebacker Jacques Smith said. "[Florida] kind of exposed themselves a little bit. That's our game plan, to get them into third-and-longs and force him to throw the ball and make him throw long balls.

"I think it was just their front four and [Florida's] blocking scheme up front. [Texas A&M] threw in a mixture of games up front within the defensive line. That's what threw them off."

No gifts

Tennessee's receivers are expecting a more difficult time than in their previous games. N.C. State's talented secondary played mostly zone coverage, and the Vols easily exploited Georgia State's soft coverage. Neither will be the case Saturday night.

"I think they're going to play hard man-to-man coverage," receiver Justin Hunter said. "We're going to be ready for that. We always work on that, so it's going to be nothing new."

Dooley said Monday the Vols should expect grabbing and pushing from the Gators' defensive backs, who play the same style Tennessee's cornerbacks have adopted this season. It's Muschamp's philosophy to play aggressively and deny the ball. Tennessee's passing game has been clicking, but the receivers will have to work to gain separation against the Gators.

"They like to press a lot," receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. "They'll try to get physical with you. It don't really bother me or nothing, so I'll just got out and do what I have to do."

Extra points

• Linebackers Herman Lathers (shoulder) and Curt Maggitt (turf toe) were limited in Tuesday's practice, but the two starters did more than they did during last Tuesday's practice. Neither is 100 percent, and Dooley said they're still questionable and day-to-day. It appears, though, that they'll play Saturday

"What we can't do is have a setback, but we've got to practice them," Dooley said. "That's the challenge. They say, 'Well, don't practice -- they'll be ready.' No, they won't. It's hard to play well when you don't practice."

• Tennessee got a surprise Tuesday when tight end Brendan Downs returned to the practice field less than a month after dislocating his kneecap during an August scrimmage. He wore a black sleeve and brace on his left leg, but the sophomore moved around pretty well. Dooley didn't rule him out for Saturday.

"Before today I would have said no way," the coach said. "Is there a chance he could get 10 snaps? Maybe. We'll see how it goes."

• Linebacker Christian Harris could make his debut this week or next week against Akron less than six months after tearing his ACL.

• Dooley called freshman receiver Alton "Pig" Howard a game-time decision. "We're going to just see," he said. "I wouldn't draft him to my fantasy team.

• Dooley said new starting kicker Derrick Brodus made all his field-goal tries during Tuesday's practice.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.