Oct. 31, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The Tennessee defense knows it will have its hands full this weekend with a high-octane Troy offense coming to town averaging 459.6 yards of total offense per game entering Saturday's Homecoming showdown.
Despite the adversity the Vols have faced on defense this season, they are excited about the challenge and continue to put their nose to the grind stone in search for solutions and more consistent play.
"The kids came out this week and are still getting better," UT defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri said. "We are trying to get better, trying to do the fundamentals right. They executed pretty dang well out in practice today. It's still about putting yourself in position, making a play, bringing your feet with you and they have been working hard."
For the Trojans, their offensive success comes from their ability to move the ball down the field in a variety of different ways.
"In Troy I see a team that comes out and is very multiple, they are delivering the ball to all four wide receivers," Sunseri said. "They will go to empty, they will go into a two-back set, they will run the option and they have two different style quarterbacks.
"They have a quarterback who sits back there and slings it, number six [Corey Robinson], and then they bring an athletic guy in there, number seven [Deon Anthony], who does a great job of running a little bit of a read zone and can beat you with his feet. You have to be really careful with him back there because he will pull the ball down and take off."
In its preparations to slow down the fast-paced Troy offense this week, the Big Orange has focused on finding ways to minimize the big plays that have plagued it through the first eight games of the season.
"We are giving up too many dang explosives and when you give up explosives, it is costing you," Sunseri said. "We are going out in practice and making sure that we aren't giving up any explosives in practice, keeping them short, keeping them to a minimum and that is going to help them on Saturday.
"I think that they are going to go work, they are going to go practice and they are going to do what they have to do. It has been a great week of practice. They are working their butts off and we are coaching our butts off and we just have to keep on going."
BIG PLAYS FROM UNLIKELY SOURCESIn putting up 35 points on a South Carolina defense that had allowed just over 16 per game going into last Saturday's game in Columbia, the Tennessee offense saw some unlikely sources step up and make big plays.
Senior wide receiver Zach Rogers led the team with 107 receiving yards and three touchdowns, sophomore Vincent Dallas recorded his first career touchdown on a 61-yard reception, the third longest of the season, and freshman Pig Howard threw a touchdown to redshirt senior tight end Mychal Rivera out of the wildcat, the first TD toss by a non-quarterback since 2007.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was pleased with how his "non-starters" played against a tough SEC defense.
"We had several players that wouldn't be called `starters' step in and make plays," Chaney said. "Alex Bullard stepped in and played a fine football game. Vincent made plays, Pig made plays, Jacob [Carter] made plays. The kids are out there making plays and they are enjoying playing football and are happy about that. What I make of it is that they seem to be trying to go out every day to improve on the practice field and they are playing better."
Rogers, who became the ninth Vol to achieve the feat of three touchdowns in one game, played one of the best games of his career last Saturday, something that didn't come as a shock to Chaney.
"I think he has been playing like that all season," Chaney said. "He has stayed relatively healthy. He has been excited about playing. When his number is called, he has been able to step up and make plays. I don't see anything changing one way or the other."
Head coach Derek Dooley wasn't surprised by his performance either.
"Zach is a senior so you love to see the guys that keep staying with it and over the course of time reach their potential and have success," Dooley said. "Zach probably practices with the level of consistency better than anybody on our offense and I think that gives Tyler [Bray] a lot of confidence when he drops back knowing where he is going to be and how quickly he is going to be there and that is starting to pay off. He has made a lot of big plays for us and has done it almost every game. He is a real important part of our offense."
With thanks in part to one of his closest friends off the field, and most trusted receivers on the field, Tyler Bray had arguably his best performance of 2012 against South Carolina.
"The motivation behind his performance, I will leave that for Tyler to tell you one way or the other, but whatever took place I think he played his best football game last week," Chaney said. "From a mental side he had a pretty solid week of practice. If he was motivated by that, which I hope he was, because it was very well thought out and talked about. He needed to go out and play better and he knew that. He played better and we are happy for him."
Bray also had a good performance thanks to time in the pocket created by the offensive line, the strongest constant the offense has had this season.
"There is no doubt about it," Chaney said. "When you are good in the front and in line of scrimmage play in this conference or at any level for that matter. If you feel like you can be successful in the front it makes things a lot easier for play calling. So far we have been able to competitive upfront and I hope we continue that. "
That strong play starts with someone who hasn't been mentioned much this season, and someone who had to earn his starting role back at the beginning of fall camp, center James Stone.
"You haven't noticed him much have you," Chaney said. "You have just said it all about an offensive lineman. He is doing a nice job. He is delivering the ball accurately to the quarterback. He is getting us in the right schemes for the most part. I am real tickled how he is playing."
All of the pieces of the puzzle are falling in place for the Vols and Chaney believes that it is just in time for the team to execute a full 60 minutes of football.
"You concentrate on execution," Chaney said. "It doesn't matter if it is the first play or the last play you have to go out and execute the play that is called and do the best you can. You have to try to be detailed when you are tired at the end of a ball game. That is all you can ever do."