Jimmy’s blog: Tennessee defense had solid season, with a few exceptions

Jimmy’s blog: Tennessee defense had solid season, with a few exceptions

By Jimmy Hyams

Tennessee’s defensive numbers in 2022 weren’t imposing.

It was terrible against the pass, allowing 287 yards per game (127th in the nation).

It was horrific against South Carolina, allowing 63 points and 606 total yards.

It allowed almost 400 total yards per game.

You’ve come to expect that from a defense that often is put in harm’s way by an up-tempo offense.

But despite those numbers, Tennessee’s defense held its own for the most part.

When it went against lesser opponents, it was dominant.

Ball State scored only 10 points, Akron got six, UT-Martin managed 24 (10 in the fourth quarter) and Vanderbilt was shutout after scoring 31 against Florida, 24 against Kentucky and 28 against Ole Miss.

The defense was the reason Tennessee won at Pitt in overtime.

And the defense held LSU to seven points until well into the fourth quarter.

By my calculations, defensive coordinator Tim Banks had just three subpar outings.

The Vols allowed 63 points to South Carolina and a red-hot Spencer Rattler.

They gave up 49 to Alabama and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young.

They were torched for 596 yards and 33 points in a narrow win over Florida as quarterback Anthony Richardson, who hadn’t throw a scoring pass in the first three games of the season, lit UT up for 453 yards and two touchdown passes.

Banks’ aggressive style proved to be effective against most opponents this season.

And UT’s run defense was stout. The Vols allowed just 111.8 rush yards per game to rank second in the SEC and 20th in the nation. UT also allowed just 3.2 yards per rush.

It was a significant improvement over 2021, when opponents averaged 148.5 rushing yards and 3.7 yards per carry against the Vols. UT also cut down on scoring defense from 29.1 points to 23.5.

UT’s staff has proven it can maximize offensive talent.

It has yet to prove it can maximize defensive talent, although defensive line coach Rodney Garner has done a nice job developing is unit.

Tennessee’s linebacker play was average this season.

The secondary play was, for the most part, poor.

Tennessee signed what appears to be an outstanding array of defensive players in the Class of 2023. But it might take a couple of years for those players to make an impact.

I think Tennessee’s defense needs to be built the way the Colts were in Peyton Manning’s heyday. Behind Manning, the Colts would often build a second-half lead then rely on a ferocious pass rush to harass the opposing quarterbacks in the fourth quarter.

Tennessee had two promising young edge rushers this season in Joshua Josephs and James Pearce with linebacker Elijah Herring showing the type speed needed to harass passers.

Tennessee has signed a couple of edge rushers that could be disruptive to an opponent’s throw game.

That should give the Vol Nation hope that the defense won’t necessary be a liability with an offense that doesn’t play complimentary football.

And it could certainly raise the ceiling on Tennessee’s potential.

If you can win 10 games with a defense that got rattled by South Carolina and ranked among the five worst in the nation in pass defense, what could you do with an improved secondary and an improved pass rush?

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