September 12, 2012
Vol D preps for 'Grown-man' ball
A Tennessee "equipment" hat and tobacco juice both fixtures, Sal Sunseri dispenses with any formalities.
The Volunteers' first-year defensive coordinator is being quizzed on No. 23 Tennessee's showcase against No. 18 Florida Saturday night inside Neyland Stadium. Kickoff for the sold-out, ESPN-GameDay contest is 6.
Sunseri's breakdown is pragmatic.
"We are playing defense around here. We;re trying to fly to the football and hold the opponents to the least amount of points we can, create turnovers, create opportunities and get off the field on third down," Sunseri said Wednesday following the Vols' morning workout. "I think [the Georgia State Panthers] were successful on 4-of-19 so defensively that is 79 percent which is pretty damn good."
It is not expected to be an evening of exotic gameplans when the Vols (2-0) and Gators (2-0, 1-0) meet Saturday night. Programs long known for their offensive firepower both insist this contest will be classic Southeastern Conference football, with the lines of scrimmage as valuable as oceanfront property. Florida has leaned heavily on tailback Mike Gillislee through its first two wins, though Gillislee has nursed a tender hamstring. The Gators iced their win at Texas A&M last week on the legs of sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel.
"In this league and starting conference play, you've got to play four quarters of football. We've challenged our guys to do that. The main thing is that this is going to be old-school football," UT defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley said. "The team that blocks the best, tackles the best, gets off blocks and controls the line of scrimmage is going to be the team that's going to win. They're not going to trick us and we're not going to trick them. Whoever comes out here and wants it the most, it's going to be grown-man football."
Added Vols sophomore linebacker A.J. Johnson, "That's what I came to the SEC for, to play SEC ball, for teams to run straight at you. That's what I love."
While Sunseri might love his defense's overall third-down proficiency --- the Vols' first two foes have converted just 10 of 35 attempts --- Sunseri also knows his unit must be more efficient from the outset. Both N.C. State in the opener and Georgia State last week exploited the Tennessee defense in the opening quarters.
"The first two games are usually almost like a preseason and you go through it and do stuff," Sunseri said. "Sometimes you have pretty dang good opponents and sometimes you have opponents you should win [against]. The bottom line is we went into Georgia and did what we had to do. We came back here and did what we had to do. We have another new opponent so we'll see how we work."
While the Vols unquestionably work better with starting linebackers Curt Maggitt and Herman Lathers healthy, neither player has been full-go this week. Both are expected to play Saturday, but their durability and effectiveness are question marks.
Sunseri admitted it complicated preparations for the physical Gators' offense.
"When you have two players that are those type of players and you are playing with guys that are usually backups, it is hard," Sunseri said. "(Dontavis Sapp and Willie Bohannon) went out and got experience, they went out there and played, they did a nice job and we won the game so I'm happy."
The Vols, at times on defense, have been hurt in the middle of the field both by scrambling quarterbacks and open receivers. Florida's leading pass-catcher is tight end Jordan Reed, a valuable middle-of-the-field playmaker with eight catches for 92 yards.
"Jordan Reed is a good football player. You have to be aware of where he is at all the time," Sunseri said. "The bottom line is that he is a dang good football player. He is their leading receiver so you have to know what he is doing, where he is at and what's going on."
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