The defense has nowhere to go but up, but getting to the quarterback would be a great place to start.
We've been doing this 10 Questions series in each of the last four preseasons, and every single year this one shows up. Which means stuff ain't getting any better.
So here's the stat again: from 1990-2005 Tennessee had at least 28 sacks every year, including five seasons of 40+ sacks with the pinnacle of 50 sacks in 2000. And then here are the numbers from the last seven years:
- 2006: 17 sacks in 13 games (99th nationally)
- 2007: 24 sacks in 14 games (65th)
- 2008: 23 sacks in 12 games (66th)
- 2009: 20 sacks in 13 games (95th)
- 2010: 26 sacks in 13 games (55th)
- 2011: 15 sacks in 12 games (107th)
- 2012: 17 sacks in 12 games (103rd)
Let's also point out that 7 of UT's 17 sacks last season came against Georgia State and Kentucky. So something the Vols were already bad at has gotten even worse in the last two seasons. Chavis, Kiffin, Wilcox, and Sunseri all failed to make a dent in this number the last seven years, and as a result the Vols have failed to control the line of scrimmage and pressure the quarterback defensively, two of the biggest keys to victory in the SEC.
One of the least satisfying spots on the depth chart is defensive end: Jacques Smith
and Marlon Walls are two names Vol fans are familiar with, but as such we kind of feel like we already know who these guys are, and haven't been overly impressed with their productivity. Even Butch Jones suggested yesterday that Tennessee's defensive front will go as Daniel McCullers
goes. But will many of the same pieces from so many failed attempts to get to the quarterback flourish under a new regime?
That's the good news: Butch Jones teams tend to get it done in this department. Last year Cincinnati was 38th nationally with 30 sacks. And in 2011, the Bearcats were second in the nation with 46 sacks in 13 games. That included a seven sack effort on Russell Wilson and NC State in a 44-14 Cincy victory. Jancek was co-defensive coordinator at Georgia in 2009 and had 30 sacks in SEC play.
The Vols don't necessarily have to be spectacular here; just being average would be a huge improvement. But getting to the quarterback is a huge part of getting off the field, and that's something this defense has to do better. There's a lot this defense has to do better, and we'll get to more of it in our series, but getting to the quarterback wasn't just a Sal Sunseri problem, it's been a UT problem. Who will be the guys who change that for this year's squad?