Wiedmer: Vols have work to do, but defense a good sign

Wiedmer: Vols have work to do, but defense a good sign

April 21st, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

UT's Jacques Smith brings down Pig Howard during the Orange and White game Saturday at Neyland Stadium.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - Hey, Sal Sunseri's defense never gave up 71 points.

OK, so we kid. Tennessee's Orange unit (defense) may have surrendered 71 points to the Whites (offense) in new coach Butch Jones' version of the modified Stableford scoring system, Spring Football Edition, but it also racked up 95 points.

And as any Vols coaching legend in any sport -- be it Pat Summitt, Ray Mears, Gen. Robert Neyland (well, maybe not Neyland) or Phillip Fulmer almost certainly would agree -- a 24-point win is nothing to ridicule.

Even against your own teammates.

In some ways, the defense even showed mind-blowing improvement, totaling nine sacks (worth one point each in the Jones point system) and a mere 98 yards net rushing allowed. For perspective, former coordinator Sunseri's defenseless "D" totaled 17 sacks all of last season.

The change was so pronounced that when Jones was asked what most encouraged him about Saturday's contest before 61,076 Volniacs, he swiftly replied, "Up front, defensively. I thought we did some great things at the line of scrimmage."

And that's probably where any serious discussion of the Orange and White game should begin and end. Injuries, a Top 25 recruiting class not yet snuggled into its dorm beds (at least for the most part) and the understandable desire to show as little as possible to this autumn's opponents made this an exercise in introductions.

As in:

"Hi, Big Orange Nation. I'm your new football coach, Butch Jones, and this is my house. Not to be rude, but we're still unpacking. We'll give you a proper tour of the interior rooms in September."

Hopefully, the BON replied, "We understand. The previous tenants definitely left you a mess. Not a couple of dirty dinner plates on the counter and a stinky sock or two on the floor mess, either. A full-blown, hoarders' haven, overflowing litter box, dumpster fire of a mess. So take all the time you need. We won't bother you again until Aug. 31, when Austin Peay visits. Until then, happy homemaking."

Yet both Jones and the UT fan base also know that every family needs a leader -- someone to pay the bills, rally the troops, keep everyone safe in times of trouble.

In the big-picture view, Jones already is embracing that role with wit and wisdom. Or as senior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James joked concerning Fans Day: "Coach was like the president, kissing babies and stuff."

But out on the field, it's preferable that the quarterback assume that role, if not downright demand it.

"Name me a good football team or a great football team whose quarterback wasn't a great leader," Jones said. "The quarterback sets the entire temperament for the football team, not just the offense."

The two quarterbacks on display for the Whites were junior Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. Both showed promise. Neither looked like the second coming of Casey Clausen, much less Peyton Manning.

And given such mediocrity -- neither Worley nor Peterman completed 50 percent of his passes -- true freshmen Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson might actually challenge for meaningful playing time come preseason camp in August.

Or as Jones replied when asked about the quarterback competition: "It's wide open."

Perhaps that's also why James noted, "We have a long way to go. Today was fun, but there was a lot of sloppy play, a lot of penalties."

Nevertheless, regardless of the scoring system, the defense outscored the offense by 24 points. After ranking last in the Southeastern Conference in defense last season, that's surely something to fill every Volniac's summer vacation with modest hope for a better 2013 than last year's 5-7 finish.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com