There isn't too much positive to say about the Volunteer defense. The publicity around the defensive unit has sounded like a broken record over the past three weeks, but who's to blame? What can be done about it?
If I had to put a number on who's responsible for the defensive woes, I would put it at 60 percent to 40 percent coaching.
It might not be fair to Derek Dooley or Sal Sunseri to put that much on them, but they are paid too much to not take the responsibility.
The Volunteers dropped $800,000 for Sunseri, which makes him the third highest-paid assistant coach in the SEC, and Dooley brings in $1.8 million. It's what they're suppose to do.
That being said, there are a good amount of instances where the players are in the right position to make a play and just simply can't make it. The defensive line can't seem to get to the quarterback against an SEC offensive line and the secondary seems to be lost on at least one play each drive. Even after the coaching staff has said they have simplified the defense to help the players out.
But doesn't that just bring the question back to coaching? Shouldn't they be recruiting players who have the ability to execute the defense? To comprehend and apply the schemes?
But enough of the blame game — what can be done to try and patch the dam up enough to make it through the rest of the year?
This week Dooley has stressed that there will be "significant things done" to try and turn the defense around, but what are those?
The first thing to do is adapt, which Dooley has finally conceded to do, and go back to the drawing board.
When your team ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in plays given up of over 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards, something isn't working and hasn't been for a while.
As a coach you don't want to abandon ship too early. Especially when your university paid $800,000 for that ship and your job is somewhat reliant on that ship to keep you afloat, but after giving up 37 to Florida, giving up three plays of over 20 yards to Akron and having the Zips convert 4-of-7 third-and-long, 51 points to Georgia and 41 to Mississippi State, I would consider heading for the life boat.
Keep some of the things you've implemented over the season because you have made the conscious decision to switch to the 3-4 defense, but it isn't working. Go back to what worked last season for the last three weeks to try and come away with wins. Do things that the players are comfortable with.
I don't expect this defense to turn things around in the final three and possibly four weeks. Dooley has said it consistently this year, "you are what your bubble gum card is." Meaning you are what your stats say you are, and the Vols' stats say they are terrible.
But I do expect them to try as much as they can to put the players in position, and I expect the players to finally be completely fed up with the results that they will refuse to let it happen again.
Will that translate to a different result? We'll find out Saturday.
— Austin Bornheim is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org