Last year, Tennessee’s defense was one of the worst in the SEC. This year, not much has changed just based on numbers.
In 12 games last year, the Vols allowed 29.1 points per game, 412.9 yards per game, forced just 15 turnovers, allowed opponents to convert on third down 45.2 percent of the time, and gave up a score 90 percent of the time in the red zone. Through eight games this season, UT is allowing 29.6 points a game, 384 yards a game, have only forced 10 turnovers, are allowing teams to convert 38.5 percent of the time on third down, and have allowed a score 93.3 percent of the time in the red zone.
There are many reasons for the Vols’ struggles on defense this year, but head coach Jeremy Pruitt isn’t making any excuses for his team’s poor play on the defensive side of the ball.
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“You know, we’ve not gotten very many turnovers. We’ve struggled to stop the run. You know, if you look at us defensively, there’s not a whole lot of things that we’ve done very well,” Pruitt said Wednesday during Vol Calls. “We’ve done some things well in some games, and we’ve not in other games. And it really has nothing to do with who we play. We’ve got to be more consistent. We’ve got to execute at a little higher level, and we’ve got to be able to kind of create some plays.”
When looking across the board defensively for the Vols, there’s not a single major statistical category where UT is in the top half of the SEC this season. The closest they are in any one area is pass defense. The Vols are eighth in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game, giving up 214.3 yards per game through the air. But even that stat doesn’t tell the whole story, as the Vols are tied with Vanderbilt and Texas A&M for the third-most passing touchdowns allowed in the SEC, and they’re just eighth in interceptions forced.
On the season, Tennessee is giving up 6.06 yards per play to opponents. They’ve allowed an opponent to gain over six yards a play four times this season, and every Power Five team Tennessee has played has gained at least 5.6 yards per play against the Vols’ defense. SEC teams are averaging 6.52 yards per play against the Vols.
Not only that, but UT has given up quite a lot of points this season as well.
Tennessee has given up 58, 47, 40, and 38 points to opponents this season. The Vols haven’t held an opponent to under 24 points in SEC play this year.
The Vols also haven’t created enough opportunities for themselves on defense either. Their 10 turnovers forced this season is tied for 90th in the FBS. That total is the fifth-fewest amount of takeaways by a team in the SEC this season.
Pruitt isn’t used to not having success on defense as a coach. He’s been the defensive coordinator for Alabama, Georgia, and Florida State, and he had massive success at all of those stops. But none of those programs were in the shape Tennessee was in when Pruitt took over.
But things do get a little easier for the Vols for the last month of the regular season.
Three of Tennessee’s last four opponents are ranked 94th or worse in points scored per game, 86th or worse in total yards per game, and 47th or worse in yards per play. Only Missouri poses a huge threat offensively of the Vols’ remaining four opponents.
The Vols have a chance to end the season on a high note on both sides of the ball, but the defense especially has a chance to shine against some weaker offensive teams. And Tennessee will need them to step up if they hope to make a bowl game at season’s end.