Speaking of putting up their best performance of the year.
Tennessee’s defensive line actually looked like a capable SEC D-line on Saturday. The Vols did a fantastic job bottling up a dangerous Mississippi State rushing attack, limiting Kylin Hill to a paltry 13 yards on 11 carries. That in itself is outstanding, but UT’s defensive line actually generated a pass rush, too. Matthew Butler, Aubrey Solomon, and Darel Middleton all picked up a sack, and LaTrell Bumphus and Greg Emerson helped get tackles for loss, too. Just like with the offensive line, this was easily the defensive line’s best performance of the entire season so far. And they did it all against a fairly good offensive line, too.
Yes, Tennessee had seven sacks on the night, but a lot of them were “coverage” sacks. The Vols’ defensive backfield was so great on Saturday that the defensive line was able to get to the quarterback on plays in which either Mississippi State quarterback had all day to throw. In fact, more often than not, Tommy Stevens or Garrett Shrader had anywhere from three-to-five seconds to throw the football. That’s not ideal. On Bryce Thompson’s sack, every single defensive linemen was beat 1-on-1, but Thompson was still able to get to the quarterback. And there were multiple plays in which Stevens had all day to throw the football, but he made an errant throw to an open receiver.
Still, Tennessee’s defensive line was improved, and it was by far the group’s best game of the season. Most impressive, it was against a very good Mississippi State offensive line.