published Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Tennessee Vols put Bama loss in the past

  • photo
    Tennessee’s A.J. Johnson gets stopped by the Alabama defense during the first half of Saturday’s loss to the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TENNESSEE TRENDS

Three sets of notable numbers after Tennessee's blowout loss to Alabama on Saturday night.

  1. • In four SEC games this season, Tennessee's defense under first-year coordinator Sal Sunseri has allowed 173 points and 2,104 yards. That's a per-game average of 43.3 points and 526 yards to teams with a combined record of 27-1 and ranked in the top 12. In eight SEC games last season under Justin Wilcox, who's Washington defense is currently 55th nationally in yards allowed, the Volunteers allowed 222 points and 2,850 yards.
  2. • Under Wilcox, Tennessee allowed just 41 plays of 20 or more yards last season, which was tired for 14th nationally. It the Vols just seven games to pass that mark this season, and the 42 big plays allowed this season are tied for 111th nationally. Tennessee is last in the SEC in scoring and total defense.
  3. • After a poor performance against Alabama's top-ranked defense on Saturday, Vols quarterback Tyler Bray is completing just 51 percent (72 of 140) of his passes for 870 yards with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. He's thrown for less than 200 yards in his past two games. It's just the second and third times in his 19 career starts Bray has failed to reach the 200-yard mark.

KNOXVILLE — As much as Tennessee might want to throw out the video of Saturday night's blowout loss to top-ranked Alabama, the Volunteers don't have that option.

Learning the lessons of what went wrong is just part process of moving on to the next week.

After the 31-point loss to the Crimson Tide left the Vols 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference, Tennessee begins a six-week homestretch of uncertainty at 17th-ranked South Carolina.

“We're going to let this game go by us,” linebacker A.J. Johnson said after the Alabama game. “It's in the past, so we've got to get ready for the next one. We've got good players, we've got good leaders and we're just going to have to fight through it and dig ourselves out of this hole.

“I know we can do it.”

The Vols might have to if third-year coach Derek Dooley wants to keep his job another season. In three years at Tennessee, Dooley has just four SEC wins and a 0-14 mark against ranked opponents. The Vols have won just once in their past dozen SEC games.

“I think we're basically playing for the team,” receiver Justin Hunter said. “We want to finish out the season real well. We don't really think about coach's job.

“We just think about our team and what we need to do. We're playing for our team right now. We can't let up, and we've got to keep going hard.”

The chatter about his job security only will increase in volume if the Vols can't upset the suddenly struggling Gamecocks or catch fire with four friendlier opponents awaiting in November. The questions and speculation about the decision Dave Hart, Tennessee's second-year athletic director, ultimately will make will continue, too. Hart, who likes to evaluate his coaches after their seasons are finished, isn't the kind to say much publicly, but he was visibly upset outside the locker room after Tennessee lost at Mississippi State last week.

The ugly performance on the field and number of Alabama fans in the Neyland Stadium stands probably didn't help Dooley's cause, either, but the coach's biggest current challenge is keeping his team's spirits high with five games remaining.

“It's probably terrible right now,” Dooley said of his team's psyche after the loss. “We just got whipped pretty good, but we've got to regroup. We got to South Carolina next week, and there's a lot of ball ahead.

“We can't just stick our heads in our tails and go home. You've got to go play. We'll do it and we'll recover.”

The Gamecocks enter Saturday's game on its own two-game losing streak after unbeaten Florida walloped them 44-11 in Gainesville. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Sunday that quarterback Connor Shaw “in all likelihood” would remain his starting quarterback. Tailback Marcus Lattimore (bruised hip/lower back) would start after a light workload against Florida.

The long-time thorn in Tennessee's side was asked if he expected a motivated Tennessee team to show up in Columbia with the winds swirling around Dooley.

“I don't have the answer to that question,” Spurrier said. “We've got to worry about ourselves. We can't worry about our opponent right now.

“We're just not a real good team right now. We played the way bad teams play yesterday, and hopefully we can regroup somehow and start playing like good teams. We've got some issues we need to try to solve around here, so we've got a lot of work to do this week.”

Johnson and senior linebacker Herman Lathers organized a players-only meeting last Sunday after the Mississippi State loss, and Dooley said he's got no concerns about losing his team.

“We've got a lot of ball left, man,” he said. “These guys, they're into it. You've got to go out and play each week.

“You say, ‘Is there a concern?’ I wouldn't say losing them, but what I don't want is their morale to get down. It's hard when you lose. It is, so don't get me wrong. It's not like we're going to have a lot of pep in our step, but that's our job as coaches to get them ready to go and go play.”

The players have to do their parts as well, which is easier said than done with the increasing distractions and rumors about the program's future.

“It's a bad loss, but we're just going to try keep on thinking ahead,” Hunter said. “It's pretty hard because I know we can play with anybody, so for us to lose this game, it's pretty hard. You've just take it and throw it out the window and go to the next one.”

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


about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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