Tyler Baron's first sack for Vols may have been at the expense of Heisman winner

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee freshman strongside linebacker Tyler Baron has been making tackles for the Volunteers since their opening win at South Carolina on Sept. 26.

Tennessee freshman strongside linebacker Tyler Baron may be able to tell the grandchildren some day that he sacked a Heisman Trophy winner.

With 90 seconds remaining in the first half of Tennessee's 31-19 loss to Florida last Saturday inside Neyland Stadium, the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder took down Gators quarterback Kyle Trask for a 6-yard loss. Baron followed his inaugural college sack with somewhat of an impromptu celebration, with his memorable play keeping the Volunteers competitive and facing just a 10-7 deficit.

"Getting my first sack is probably my favorite moment of this year so far," Baron said Tuesday afternoon on a Zoom call.

The former four-star prospect is compiling a surprising amount of moments one year after helping Knox Catholic reach the Division II-AAA playoffs. Baron has amassed 19 tackles and three tackles for loss, which includes his sack of Trask, and he has assisted his older defensive teammates ever since the opening 31-27 win at South Carolina on Sept. 26.

Baron recorded two lost-yardage stops against the Gamecocks for a quality debut and tallied a career-best five tackles when Tennessee took its second trip of the season Oct. 10 to Georgia.

"It seems like he plays more and more snaps every game," Vols third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt said last week. "That's not unusual for a young guy, but he just continues to earn the opportunity."

The dismissal of redshirt junior Kivon Bennett last week following his arrest in Knoxville on felony charges of marijuana possession and handgun possession has enabled Baron to collect even more playing time down the stretch, but he credits his smooth transition to the college ranks to his mindset and Tennessee's strength staff.

Excitement over the early achievements from a personal standpoint, however, is countered by Tennessee's 2-6 record heading into this week's game at Vanderbilt.

"It's just been a blessing to have the little bit of success that I've had, but the most important thing to me is winning," Baron said. "I know this season hasn't gone as planned for most people, but it hasn't changed my mindset at all. I'm still going to come to work every day and try to get better as a team."

Baron's sack of Trask occurred one play after Trask converted a third-and-11 situation with a 28-yard pass to Jacob Copeland out to Florida's 47. The Gators overcame the sack with a 17-yard pass from Trask to Trevon Grimes for 17 to Tennessee's 38 on third-and-12.

Third-down defense has been a disaster this season for the Vols, who rank 116th nationally in that category, having allowed 57 conversions in 115 opportunities (49.6%).

"We need to hone in on certain details that would help us to get off the field on third down," Baron said. "I feel like there were a lot of things we saw on film that we could have done better on. I've got to pressure the quarterback and get him off his spot more.

"There were a lot of things I didn't do well and that I can improve on."

Planning to play

Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Todd Fitch never got to make his debut last weekend as the interim head coach due to the Commodores not having enough healthy players to travel to Georgia.

Fitch has his fingers crossed that Saturday's game against the visiting Vols can transpire.

"Right now, we've got some guys who are down," Fitch said, "but we feel that we can go ahead and play this thing. It's really all about player safety and player welfare, and right now we feel pretty good about putting a team out there and competing well in the game."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.