KNOXVILLE – Tennessee has obviously had issues slowing down opposing offenses this season but defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is not about to back down from the challenge of getting them straightened out.
Instead, he is confronting the problems head on.
“You always have pride,” Sunseri said. “We are not playing as good as we need to play on defense and I am responsible for it because I am the guy that is calling it. It has to get done. I am not one to turn my face or my eyes away from it, we have to get it done. We are going to keep battling until we get it done.”
Although the Vols yielded over 700 yards and 48 points to Troy last weekend, Sunseri did see some signs at the end of the game that gave him hope for improvement over the final three weeks of the season.
That improvement will take a lot of hard work and commitment, but those are two qualities Sunseri is quite familiar with.
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“The only thing that I am not disappointed about is that we won the game the other day, but we figured out a way to get off the field at the end of the game and give the ball to the offense,” Sunseri said. “Then we played well in two-minute. In this game, people told me that I was too small to play, I was too this and all that and I worked through it and got it done. Right now, we just have to play better defense and that is the attitude that I want to take to the kids. We are going to work through it until we understand it and we do what we need to do to get better.”
In Tennessee’s ongoing evaluation of its entire defensive structure, one option being considered is having Sunseri move from the sidelines to the press box. While he isn’t quite ready to tip his hand about whether that will happen or not, he does see positives about a potential move.
“You will have to wait until Saturday to find that out,” Sunseri said. “It is what it is. [I have coached from the press box] for the last seven years. To me, I like being up there because you are away from everything. I think you get better eyes up there and can see more of what is going on. The only thing you miss is being around those kids and pushing them and all that. Coach [Dooley] has made a good decision on this and he wants to do it, so we are going to do it.”
While Sunseri’s placement on game day is still up for discussion, his unwavering desire to get UT’s defensive issues solved is not. Regardless of the results through the first nine games, the Vols still have three more regular-season contests remaining and Sunseri plans to make the most of them.
“The season isn’t over yet,” Sunseri said. “I think the season right now, we are sitting here and we have a chance to go out there and get another win. We are looking at this game. It’s been a learning process on both sides.
“My hat is off to the kids because they came out here today and they gave everything they could. They are trying and they play hard in the game, but we just have to quit making the mental mistakes. I am not disappointed in the kids, I am disappointed in myself. I just have to keep pushing them and keep on finding out what is going to trigger them and make them better.”
DOOLEY'S DEFENSIVE STANCE
In his weekly SEC teleconference head coach Derek Dooley made it clear that he is spending the lion's share of his time on the defensive side of the ball to help address the Vols' issues.
Dooley alluded to some "significant changes," but wasn't specific as to what the adjustments were.
"I have been spending all of my time over there and more to be just another eye to make sure that our players are out there not confused and not thinking," Dooley said. "We have made some significant changes that I hope will show up a little big on game day but it is not something that you can overhaul in one week."
Playing without a win in the SEC, Dooley stressed the magnitude of the game with league newcomer Missouri.
"This is obviously an important game for us," he said. "There is a lot at stake, we are trying to get our first SEC win and we have played well in this league but haven't gotten the W. We are playing a team who is playing really well now. They had Florida on the road and their quarterback is playing a little bit better, so it is going to be a big challenge for us."
Last week's Troy game started what Dooley has termed a "second season," and that they Vols must play each week as individual seasons. He is keeping to that mantra.
"The biggest thing we have focused on is trying to be 1-0," said Dooley, who has coached the Vols to a 7-2 mark in November games. "We did it last week, that was all our focus was to be 1-0 any way we could do it. Our team has kept their focus pretty good. The reality is they know what is at stake and certainly going to the bowl game is a big deal. It is still out there and it is our opportunity to take advantage of it."
When you are running an offense that is in the top-20 in the country, you should be having fun.
Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney says that he is.
According to Chaney, calling plays for the 2012 Vols has been the most fun he has had at Rocky Top.
"You have enjoyment as a coach when your players are executing the production they need," Chaney said. "When they are not you don't. I was happy late Saturday because we won the ball game."
Chaney's fun was short lived, because although he stopped to enjoy the moment on game day, he went right back to work Sunday to prepare for the Vols next challenge, Missouri.
"You don't get to feel good for very long, you move on to the next ball game," Chaney said. "Enjoyment is something that maybe during retirement I will get to enjoy something. Right now it is moving on to the next obstacle which is the Missouri Tigers."
Chaney made 76 different play calls on Saturday, which resulted in 35 first downs, tying the school record. His play calls also resulted in 55 points, 718 yards of total offense, and most importantly, a win.
But as always, Chaney is modest about his abilities.
"I don't know about all the numbers," Chaney said. "Every ball game whether you win or lose there are plays that you wish you could have done again. There are always four or five calls a game that I wish I could have taken back. That doesn't change, seldom every changes. Over the period of time that I have called plays, there is good and there is bad and ugly with every ball game. That is why the end result is what really matters, we got the W."
HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY
“I think the struggles they have had a lot of it was that their quarterback hasn’t played a lot, consistency. He has been banged up and hurt and anytime you lose your quarterback and a really good one like that, it is naturally going to impact the results. We ran into that last year a little bit on offense. That has been the biggest thing. Against Florida you could see that they generated a lot of yards, there were a lot of guys open and they missed some things, but they were close on so you can see their confidence coming back. That is what is going to be our challenge.”
(On Cordarrelle Patterson in open space)
“In fact it is very important to me that I don’t tell him anything once he gets the ball in his hands. He is just one of those special guys when he touches the ball. The hardest part for us is making sure we can get him enough touches in space.”
(On getting Patterson more touches)
“We have run him back there some and we get him into the return game and on the reverses. Anyway we can try and get him to touch the ball it is going to help us.”
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR JIM CHANEY
(On the pressure to win)
“You feel it in your jobs, we feel it in our jobs. It is no different. It is just what we do, it’s not who we are.”
(On Missouri’s defense)
“I think Coach Steckel is a heck of football coach, their defensive coordinator. He is a friend of mine. When you watch defenses and they play hard and they are sound, that is what you want for your football players. That is what we want here at Tennessee in the offensive guys that we are coaching. Those guys are doing that and they have a good amount of talent. When you have talent and they play hard, good things come your way. It doesn’t surprise me that they are ranked whatever they are ranked in the country because they have talent, they have scheme, they are well coached, and they have great effort.”
(On Zach Rogers allowing for more plays on offense)
“Not much. Zach gets the ball when it is his turn to get the ball in the progression of play. Sometimes he is the first read, sometimes he is second, sometimes he is third. As far as opening up the playbook, I don’t feel like we are restricted at all, we are just doing what we do.”
(On Tyler Bray)
“I feel like has played with a measured amount of discipline. There is always two or three plays in the last couple of weeks that we would have liked to have back. But it is better than six or seven. I do feel that way. I feel like he has played with more discipline or calm in the last few weeks.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR SAL SUNSERI
(On generating more pressure on the quarterback)
“You have to come with a little more men than they have, but you still have to be able to cover. I think getting faster guys out there to get to the quarterback and just doing your techniques. The techniques that are being taught are the same techniques that were taught for the last seven years. That speaks for itself.”
(On whether generating pressure is a schematic issue)
“It is knowing the protection, who is blocking you and how they are blocking you. Now you are going to counter on them. Then you can out-scheme some people and get some guys running free. These kids went out there today and they practiced hard and they got better today. It was like a different attitude, so it was a lot of fun out there.”
(On Missouri QB James Franklin)
“The kid is a dang good football player. I don’t care what it is, in any game you can have a bad game. If you go with this kid’s history and what he has done, he is a very, very good football player. He has great legs, he can deliver the ball, they have a great system, he just had a bad day. Not everybody can go out there and have a good day, so we are expecting him to come in here and play his best and we have to play our best.”
(On if the team is practicing better than it is playing in games)
“Yes, I really do. I think we get out here and I don’t know why that is, but younger kids are out there for the first time playing. We are later in the season here and we just need to take it from what we do on the field to game day and we will be fine.”
(On linebackers shedding blocks)
“You have to get used to using your hands and getting off people and snapping. Until you get that and it becomes clockwork, that becomes an issue.”
(On Curt Maggitt)
“Curt has been battling some injuries, a shoulder and everything else, and it has been hard on him. He has to strap on and the kid does a great job. He goes out there and practices, but until it becomes clockwork, until it becomes second nature to get your hands on somebody, snapping them off and going to make a play, but he is getting there.”
(E-mail Stan Crawley at email@example.com)