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One key stat that proves Tennessee’s defensive improvement

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NCAA Football: Mississippi at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Back in the summer, a common thought was that Tennessee might just be decent offensively, but they were probably going to be atrocious defensively. After all, they did watch Henry To’o To’o, Quarvaris Crouch, Bryce Thompson, Key Lawrence and several others leave the team.

A thin defense paired with an offense that wants to run three plays a minute? I’ll be honest, I was having some Sal Sunseri visions before the season. But that hasn’t happened. Actually, it’s been the opposite. The Tennessee defense has actually improved from 2020 to 2021, jumping up from 70th to 58th. On the surface, that’s not a huge gain, but simply holding serve in year one with this roster would have been impressive.

Tim Banks has been outstanding to this point, and he’s delivered on his message that he’s been preaching since he arrived. Knowing the pace of Tennessee’s offense, it’s absolutely vital that the Vols force turnovers and negative plays.

Tennessee ranks 26th in the country now in turnover margin at +5.

It’s the tackles for loss statistic that will blow you away, though. Tennessee now ranks No. 2 nationally in tackles for loss — No. 1 in all of power five. That’s simply astonishing, especially when you compare it to the Pruitt era.

Tennessee’s numbers in this category are likely to take a hit over the next three games with Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia up next. But still, the defensive development and buy-in to the scheme are absolutely there.

It’s interesting too, considering Jeremy Pruitt was a defensive specialist. Coaching matters so much, and this is yet another example of that. It’s another reason to have confidence in Josh Heupel moving forward, not that you needed another one.

Tennessee isn’t winning games on the defensive side of the ball, but they’re doing enough. They’re starting to capitalize on opportunities and putting the offense in better situations to win. Remember, they were robbed last week of a game-changing play in the first quarter, too.

Tim Banks’ unit is going to give up yards, but they’ve proven more than capable of finding the big play too. In year one, that’s about all you can ask.