KNOXVILLE — Tennessee is at the most crucial part of the 2017 season this week.
It is crucial in the sense that it is not only the next game, but the upcoming game is against SEC East rival Florida and should determine the direction of the season.
If the Vols want to compete for the SEC East championship, beating Florida will place them in position to do so.
After two games, there is a lot of talk questioning the Vols’ defense, which currently ranks 95th nationally in total defense, giving up 435 yards-per-game – 127th in rushing defense (328.5 ypg) and 12th in passing defense (106.5).
Tennessee opponents are 13-of-29 on third-down attempts and 1-of-2 on fourth down (both coming to Indiana State).
But it is not time to panic in the eyes of former Tennessee defensive lineman Daniel Hood, who played under Butch Jones in 2013.
“I just do not think there is anything you can really tell about them now,” Hood told Saturday Down South of the defense through two games. “We do not know if they are good, and we do not know if they are bad.”
Facing the triple option offense in Week 1 against Georgia Tech and then with a short turnaround to get ready for FCS Indiana State in Week 2 leaves a lot of unknowns.
“You cannot really grade them off Georgia Tech,” Hood said.
The comparison is similar to when Alabama surrendered 341 total yards to Georgia Southern in 2011, with 302 coming on the ground against the triple-option offense.
“It is like trying to grade Alabama off their performance against Georgia Southern. Not saying that Tennessee is Alabama by any stretch, but the three games in 13 days is what it is, and you are not going to game-plan as much for Indiana State. Let’s be honest, Tennessee should roll out there and do anything and probably win that game fairly easily like they did.”
The Vols’ defense has only recorded two quarterback hurries through two games, both being against Indiana State — from Colton Jumper and Khalil McKenzie.
Butch Jones said following the Indiana State game that their “structure of a defense is built upon impacting the quarterback” and that he believes that when Indiana State threw drop-back passes three times, that his defense was “able to impact the quarterback.”
The Volunteers’ defense has a total of four passes broken up by– Kyle Phillips, Darrell Taylor, Micah Abernathy and Emmanuel Moseley. Granted, Tennessee’s opponents have only attempted 29 passes, completing 14.
That is why some are questioning the defense, and former Tennessee defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth is one of them.
— Albert Haynesworth (@haynesworthiii) September 5, 2017
2&1 and we line up on the first down line!!! We will have the worst rush defense in the SEC!!! But good news is we are CHAMPIONS OF LIFE!!! pic.twitter.com/3Pha2EHope
— Albert Haynesworth (@haynesworthiii) September 9, 2017
But Hood issues caution to Haynesworth and others being vocal toward the unit without discussing everything that surrounds the first two games. Hood says it is an example of the saying that “there is a reason why coaches coach and players play.”
“If you watch Indiana State, every play they have 3-5 guys moving. When you watch their run scheme, they are a lateral run scheme and not really downhill. If that is the case, then you want those guys back a little. When you get penetration in that type of run scheme, it puts your linebackers in space.
“With Darrin Kirkland Jr. being out, that is the last thing you want is Colton Jumper to have to make a tackle with a lot of space. To me, that is why they were lined up like that. The same goes for Georgia Tech, with the least amount of rushing yards coming between the guards. The (Haynesworth) tweet does not really make sense without understanding what they are wanting to do schematically, and we are not in the film room. If it is third-and-two against Alabama, everyone knows they will be lined up to defend the power up the middle.”
So it is hard to gauge the defensive unit after only seeing them defend Georgia Tech’s triple option that rushed 86 times for 535 yards and Indiana State with base assignments being played. The Sycamores rushed 38 times for 122 yards.
The first two games, on top of how last season concluded defensively with injuries that affected their play, parts of the Tennessee fan base are echoing Haynesworth’s displeasure.
But should they be?
“I think Tennessee’s defense is a lot better than what they have shown,” Hood said. “The fan base needs to just calm down a little bit.
“You do not want to show too much either (against Indiana State) with Florida coming up. The goal is to win the SEC East, and if you lose to Florida there are questions at the end of the year.”
Hood views the match-up with Florida as in Tennessee’s favor for Bob Shoop to game-plan against a traditional offense. Watching film and studying snap counts will help with a pass rush and providing pressure in the backfield along with focusing on basic principles.
The former Volunteers defensive lineman also played under one of the worst defenses in school history in 2012. Former head coach Derek Dooley brought in a first-year defensive coordinator, Sal Sunseri, and it resulted in the nation’s 110th-ranked defense — one that gave up 471.3 yards per game.
“I am not ready to say it will be a ‘Sal Sunseri’ year,” Hood said. “I played on that defense and that was a completely different defense from what I have seen at practice this year from what we did in 2012.”
Hood is also calling for Volunteers fans to focus more on the positives rather than continuously talking negatively on social media.
“Instead of finding positives that we can talk about, like Daniel Bituli and how he played against Georgia Tech or Colton Jumper having 22 tackles, being upset about a trash can and a third-down song because they think it is gimmicky. That is what the kids (recruits) like, and when they come into Neyland Stadium that is a good scene with all of the fans cheering along with it.”