TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The numbers on the stat sheet were anything but what the Tennessee defense wanted to see Saturday evening. Especially after last week's win against South Carolina, which included holding the Gamecocks to 15 total yards in the final period.
But there they were, as big and brutal as they've been most of the year for opponents of No. 1 Alabama. It started with the 45 points allowed in this 45-10 defeat. Then came the 204 rushing yards, 275 passing yards, no interceptions and only two forced punts, neither of which were launched in an opening half in which the Crimson Tide took a 35-0 lead.
"It's not necessarily what they did, it's what we did to ourselves," said Tennessee senior defensive end Corey Miller. "In the second half we showed that we can do whatever we want to do. But we started slow."
It would be impossible to argue that. The Tide scored on their first three possessions. They almost certainly took advantage of safety Brian Randolph missing several series with an injured shoulder, though he was able to return in the final half.
"Brian does a lot for us," Miller said. "That was a big loss when he was out."
But first-year UT coach Butch Jones wasn't making excuses for the Vols' third loss in four conference games, which dropped the Big Orange to 4-4 overall.
"We probably played our worst half of football we've played all year," Jones said. "Some of that was due to the quality of our opponent. Some of it was self-inflicted wounds. We just didn't perform well."
Some would argue that the defense hasn't performed well much of the season. Take away the opener against FCS member Austin Peay and UT hasn't held a single foe under 382 total yards.
But there was much hope in that final quarter against South Carolina, much reason to believe things were changing. But against the Tide they seemingly changed back until the game was out of reach.
"We lost leverage, lost containment, things we've got to correct," Miller said. "We've got to go back and look at film, get things corrected this week and get down to Missouri."
Missouri currently leads the SEC East, of course, and Saturday night's game will kick off at 7, though ESPN hasn't decided which of its networks will air it.
What is clear in Miller's mind is the goal of these Vols moving forward.
"All we want to do is get to a bowl game," he said. "That's always been the goal. That's how, as seniors, we want to be remembered."
Remembering the defense that was used to outlast South Carolina would go a long way in making that possible.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org