Most football coaches across the nation will never witness a defensive clinic like the one the Vols put up in their 52-20 stomping of Western Kentucky on Saturday.
Five interceptions, four forced fumbles – two of which the Vols recovered – two sacks, four quarterback hurries and two defensive touchdowns that came on back-to-back possessions.
The two pick-6s contributed to a sequence of five turnovers in six plays for the UT defense, a stretch that helped the Vols settle in after giving up a field goal on the Hilltoppers' opening drive.
"We're a totally different group, we genuinely love each other and we're are happy for each other,” defensive lineman Marlon Walls said after Saturday's win. “When those guys were getting picks, it made my day. It took the pressure off and made us just relax and go have fun and play our defense."
Even after the unique performance, the Vols won’t have to much time to celebrate as the No. 2 Oregon Ducks are on the Pacific Coast horizon.
"It's going to be a big step up this week,” safety Brian Randolph said. “They're a great opponent. We have a ton of respect for them so we know we're going to be in for a dog fight."
Big man on campus
At 6-foot-8, 351 pounds, senior defensive tackle Daniel McCullers has the size and talent to be an elite nose tackle.
The potential for McCullers, who was marked as one of the most important pieces on the defense by head coach Butch Jones when he was hired in December, has not always shown.
But Jones is optimistic that the JUCO transfer from Georgia Military Academy will continue to improve.
“Dan continues to be a work in progress,” Jones said. “Dan is still one of those individuals though that needs to learn that your practice habits are critical to carrying over to your game day performance and Dan is doing things that I have not seen him done off of film.”
Jones added: "I think he's playing with greater effort, I think his mindset, his physicality have improved and he's very, very prideful. He doesn't say a lot but he listens and holds to every word you say. ... We expect a lot and demand a lot from Dan because he is very capable of being a difference-maker and I've been pleased right now with his progress.”
Ready, set, go
"I'm sure that it is the same for everyone, just their up-tempo speed and athleticism," junior wide receiver Jacob Carter said in regards to the problems a matchup with Oregon presents.
When the Ducks came to Neyland Stadium in 2010, the Vols actually went into halftime tied 13-13 with the then-No. 7 ranked powerhouse. However, Oregon's constant up-tempo offense gassed UT’s defense, scoring 35 unanswered points in the second half en route to a 48-13 victory.
Around the locker room the word tempo left the word of almost every UT player at least once when talking about an Oregon team that is averaging over 400 rushing yards in its first two contests alone.
"It's going to be a barn burner this week,” Randolph said. “We're going to be huffing and puffing but it's going to be for the better to get us ready."
Pass rushers getting healthy
Three key players to the defensive unit for the Vols have been missing on the field in their first two contests this season, and all three are close to a return.
"Well we totally anticipate having Jacques Smith back and he's been cleared to practice," Jones said Monday. "He'll practice today. Curt Maggitt will be another; we'll see how he progresses throughout the week of practice. He's continually getting better and progressing. Corey Vereen , we'll know a little bit more about how he progresses throughout the week of practice, but I'm very encouraged by all three individuals."