Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has a very candid approach when speaking to the media.
So when asked about the magnitude of this Florida game, UT’s first-year defensive coordinator was very direct about the importance of getting a win against the Gators on Saturday and breaking an 11-year losing streak to Florida in the process.
“I was told on numerous occasions that my responsibility is to win this game,” Shoop said on Wednesday, adding that Butch Jones and “about 6 million” others were the one who have said that.
And while he’s obviously oversimplifying his job description for a bit for humor, Shoop does have a solid point. Tennessee parted ways with a good defensive coordinator in John Jancek to bring in Shoop, who the Vols hoped would take the defense to great – especially in key moments in big games.
The numbers weren’t bad for UT under Jancek. The Vols were top five in the conference scoring defense in 2015, and in the top half of the conference in total defense, despite playing arguably the toughest schedule in the league. Those big moments that haunted the Vols, however.
Tennessee finished last in the league in fourth-down defense, with some of its most notable failures in that area coming on huge plays against Florida and Oklahoma – games the Vols lost after blowing late leads.
Enter Shoop, a former Vanderbilt and Penn State coordinator with a reputation for top defenses and timely blitzes. The Vols were good enough under Jancek to stick with anybody, but Jones placed his bet that Shoop will be good enough to make the right calls in the big moments this Saturday, and in the following three big games after that.
Results have been a bit mixed for Shoop so far as the Vols have struggled at times through three weeks, but the defense has adjusted and made big plays late in games thus far.
While UT’s fallen behind in two of its three games, the defense has locked down late, giving up an average of just 5.6 points per game in the second half/overtime so far this season. On the biggest defensive play of the year thus far, Shoop dialed up the right pressure and coverage to get an overtime stop against Appalachian State to help UT avoid the season-opening upset.
And UT, despite several key injuries on this side of the ball, needs more of those big stops against Florida to break a streak that Shoop said his players are aware of, but aren’t dwelling on.
“Everybody is aware of it, you can’t help of be aware of it,” he said. “You turn on the SEC Network and it’s there, but a lot of these guys haven’t played them but one or two times and they were both really good games. It’s a nice rivalry, we very are excited about it. To us it’s a great game because its our first SEC game and its a 3:30 CBS game. I think our players are really excited to play Florida on Saturday.”
Jones and “about 6 million” UT fans are anxious to see if Shoop can help finish the job he was brought in to do.