Defensive Line: C
Tennessee football could have done more up front against this balanced attack. The Vols only picked up one sack on the day, from Emmit Gooden, and they allowed the ETSU Bucs to average nearly four and a half yards a carry. For an FBS school with all of their talent, that’s not a good average overall. To be fair to this team, they continue to adjust to the 3-4. But the defensive line has got to do a much better job in the future if the Vols are going to make it through an SEC schedule with a winning record overall.
The big plays in this game were in the back seven, and that started with the linebackers. Before we go any further, though, the failures of the front seven to get a push fall here. So this should be a C or even a D. However, Will Ignont showed some positives while in the game, as did Daniel Bituli as a starter. Add in Darrin Kirkland Jr.’s pick-six, and the inside linebackers had a great day overall. In fact, since that’s one of the tougher positions to transition to a 3-4 in, the Vols should be concerned about why the unit was so much better than the outside linebackers.
Speaking of tough transitions, you can’t play much better than the Vols’ secondary did on Saturday. Bryce Thompson was the star at cornerback, picking up an interception and two tackles for a loss. But Nigel Warrior was much better as well. Logan Marchi is an FBS quarterback who did have nearly 250 yards against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish last year, but the Vols held him to 72 yards on 11-of-26 passing. For a unit that was so horrible in Week 1, yes, this was a clear improvement, even if the competition was way less.
Overall defensive grade: B
Randy Sanders’s balanced attack hardly generated anything against the Vols. Meanwhile, they created enough big plays in the passing game to set up the offense. The front seven could do a better job in the run defense, but the pass defense could not have been better. Even if it was against weak competition, the play there was enough to give this unit a B.