Jimmy’s blog: Vols’ defense must improve pass rush, pass defense

By Jimmy Hyams

It’s not fair to judge a team on one game.

It’s not fair to judge a defense on one game.

But after watching Tennessee get torched by West Virginia’s passing game in a 40-14 season-opening defeat, I’m more concerned about UT’s defense going forward.

I expect this defense to be better against the run than the 2017 UT version. But I’m not sure how much better overall this defense will be.

Here are my two main concerns:

  1. I don’t think the Vols have a defensive back that is good in pass coverage. Maybe some of the freshmen will be later – but not now.
  2. And I don’t think the Vols have a good pass rusher. I expected more pressure from Kyle Phillips and Darrell Taylor and Jonathan Kongbo against the Mountaineers.  I didn’t see it.

If you don’t have a good cover corner/defensive back and you don’t have a good pass rusher, how good can your defense be?

That is a huge concern going forward for the Vols.

Tennessee shouldn’t have much trouble with its next two opponents – East Tennessee State and Texas El Paso – but starting with Florida in Week 4, look out.

The Gators scored 53 points against an inferior opponent in Charleston Southern, but quarterback Felipe Franks surely gained some confidence in throwing for five touchdowns. And coach Dan Mullen has a reputation of getting the most out of his signal callers.

Georgia scored 45 against Austin Peay and could’ve scored 75.

Auburn was held to 21 points by a strong Washington defense, but the Tigers have several playmakers that will give UT fits.

Alabama rang up 51 on Louisville and some think this might be Nick Saban’s best offensive team led by his best-ever quarterback.

South Carolina got 49 against Coastal Carolina and Gamecocks have one of the best receiver duos in the SEC in Deebo Samuels and Bryan Edwards.

Kentucky got 35 on Central Michigan as Benny Snell and Asim Rose combined for 229 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Missouri has one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks in Drew Lock and he has a tremendous supporting cast with two solid running backs, two top-notch receivers and a great tight end. Not to mention Missouri, which has scored 87 points, gained 1,399 yards and rushed for 875 yards in the last two games against the Vols.

And Vanderbilt scored 35 on Middle Tennessee State behind the arm of Kyle Shurmur, who has torched the Vols each of the last two seasons, passing for a combined 699 yards and six touchdowns.

Is Tennessee’s defense up to the task against those talent teams?

It obviously wasn’t against West Virginia, which might have the best passing team the Vols will face all season. The Mountaineers not only threw for 429 yards and five touchdowns, they scored on four of five second-half possessions (they fumbled on the other) and had five touchdowns on 10 drives.

I don’t know if first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt has enough magic dust to turn this defense around. It might play well against the three weak opponents on the schedule, but there’s not an SEC offense that isn’t capable of ringing up at least 35 on the Vols.

If the Vols had a pass rusher like Derek Barnett or a cover corner like Cam Sutton, I’d be more optimistic about the defense holding its own against some of the better offenses UT plays.

Without them, Tennessee might surrender over 400 yards and over 30 points per game to SEC opponents and West Virginia.

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