October 9, 2012

Vols seek sacks, turnovers against patient MSU

In Mississippi State's first five games of the season they've remained undefeated with a simple recipe; don't beat yourself.

The Bulldogs don't turn the ball over, having only done so four times through their first five games, and they don't give up sacks, allowing just three so far this season. For a defense that has beat itself on multiple occasions this season, Tennessee's defensive unit will need to flip the switch to slow down the Bulldogs' consistent offense.

"It's hard, it's hard. Their philosophy is sound, fundamental football and they grind teams out and that's what they do," head coach Derek Dooley said. "The important thing to do is you can't get frustrated and you've just got to play every play. And if you play that way opportunities will come and when opportunities come take advantage of them."

Taking advantage of their opponents' mistakes has been where Tennessee's defense has been at its best, turning their opponents over 12 times through just five games. It's only six fewer takeaways than the Vols had all of last season. Conversely, the UT defense has allowed 28 plays of 20 yards or more this season --- a figure just 13 short of what the defense allowed all of last year.

Outside linebacker Jacques Smith said it was important the Vols come up with the takeaways when they're available.

"It's very critical and that's something we've emphasized during the off week," Smith said. "We definitely emphasized getting the ball and getting the ball out and if the ball is in the air everybody running to it no matter if the ball hits the ground or not because you never know what the ref is going to call. There were some crazy calls last game that we could have gotten the ball back and added another turnover to our margin and that's what we continuously have to do, fight for the ball."

Mississippi State's success of taking care of the ball starts up front with their offensive line unit that has controlled the line of scrimmage in their first five contests.

"They're a great offensive line. They've got some good tackles, good guards and they know how to pass-block very well and they're patient and teams that are patient and are calm with the ball and conservative with the ball they usually keep the ball and don't make mistakes," Smith said. "That's just something we've got to force and force them into pressure making mistakes."

Tennessee's defenders have a great respect for Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen and believe the key will be not getting caught up in their misdirection and play action.

"As far as this defense we just have to be more aggressive and we watched tape on a few of their games and they had a hard time getting to the quarterback and they're making a lot of big plays off of play action so we've got to do a job in the back (end) and good up front not getting tricked with the play action or anything because coach Mullen is a great offensive coordinator," defensive end Mo Couch said. "He has a lot of plays where he can score at any time."

Something that would help Tennessee force State into more mistakes would be bringing more pressure, something the Vols have lacked so far this year. They've recorded only six sacks this season and know they need to bring the quarterback to the ground more often.

"We definitely know that we're not and that's something that we emphasize every week, that we get to the quarterback. That's something I worked on this week, continuing to perfect my pass rush and get better at it and stop getting pressures and start getting sacks," Smith said. "I mean, hell, I have like a million pressures and no sacks. That's just something I need to do, get sacks. And not just me, the whole defensive line. We showed out against Akron and Georgia State but we need to do it against teams that are important to our schedule like Mississippi State and Alabama."

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