If the Tennessee offense falls down in the middle of the forest with no one in sight, can anyone hear it turn the ball over?
The Tennessee defenders sure can't. They've gone deaf.
Unless you've been on Mars the past two months, they've been the guys keeping the hapless Vols (4-3, 1-3 SEC) in every game they've played.
The one game the defense didn't play well enough to win was Florida, and it definitely kept the team in range. However, the offense couldn't get out of its own way.
If my intramural football team took a knee three times and punted to the Tide on every offensive series, the game would have been closer.
The scoreboard said, "Alabama 34, Tennessee 14."
What it should have said was "Alabama 17, Tennessee 14, Tennessee offense minus 17." Great golf score.
Despite losing bonafide playmakers John Henderson, Will Overstreet, Albert Haynseworth and Andre Lott to the NFL, as well as Dominique Stevenson and Bernard Jackson, this unit played tough.
When defensive end Constantin Ritzmann went down in the preseason, the unit stayed strong.
When Kevin Burnett, who would have been the best player on this team, went down in the first quarter of the Wyoming game, this unit stayed strong.
When Kevin Simon, the former national defensive player of the year in high school and Burnett's replacement, went down against Rutgers, this unit stayed strong.
When linebacker Tony Campbell (grades) left the team, this unit stayed strong. You get the pattern here? This unit is tough.
Tennessee ranks third in the SEC, 15th in the nation, in total defense. The defense gives up 304.1 yards per game. That's it.
The unit ranks 29th nationally in scoring defense, and that includes the scores the offense hands to the opposition.
Neal said exactly what he thought of Alabama having 34 points.
"You get frustrated when things aren't supposed to happen, like fumbles or something taken back for a touchdown," Neal said.
"People aren't playing to their potential ... If somebody on the defense is that much better than the offense, you know, so be it. But when little stuff like mistakes happen, that's when you really get frustrated."
So what exactly is the problem here? We've already established it's not injuries. I don't know about you, but after seeing Florida, Georgia and Alabama in person, I refuse to believe it's talent.
Or, maybe it is.
"Any coach'll tell you, in order to have a good defense, you put your best athletes on defense," Neal said. "Even the big guys could probably dunk on your head right now. We've got athletes out here."
It's not talent. While I agree the defense is more athletic overall, the offense on this team is very talented. It's execution, folks.
Good teams do not turn the ball over four, five and six times a game. Good teams don't get delay of game penalties and false starts several times a game. Good teams don't take wonderful field position their defense gives them and not score (Exhibit A - Julian Battle's incredible individual effort of stripping the ball from Sam Collins and recovering, turning into a Casey Clausen interception in the end zone minutes later).
Good teams don't beat themselves, and the Tennessee offense has beaten itself three times already this season.
On the other hand, a depleted Tennessee defense has played well enough for this team to be 6-1, and all they get in return is questions about Kelley Washington after games.
Some of them blew up in the locker room. Wouldn't you?
While they won't just go out and say it, they're tired of 11 prima donnas losing games for them.
"If our offense doesn't improve, then I don't know, it could get ugly by the end of the season," Neal said.
Is it not ugly yet? With this being Halloween week, maybe it gets uglier. I can't imagine, but maybe it will.
Vols record raises concerns
Published: Wed Oct 30, 2002 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 04:37 p.m.