After 'unbelievable chess match,' Shoop says reserve judgment on Vols D
Tennessee had six or seven defensive starters play around 90 snaps on Monday, but it was the Vols’ defensive coordinator who walked away from the emotional 42-41 win over Georgia Tech exhausted.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that tired at the end of a game,” second-year coordinator Bob Shoop said Thursday.
“That was an unbelievable a chess match as I’ve ever seen.”
The Yellow Jackets racked up 655 yards — 535 on the ground — and were nearly flawless on third down. If it was a "chess match," Paul Johnson was the queen running the board with an answer for nearly every move Shoop made.
“It’s hard because he’s so good at dissecting what you do, and running counter plays to that,” Shoop said.
"They have a lot of answers for what you do because they've seen everything," defensive line coach Brady Hoke added.
Tennessee's much-maligned defense opened the game like gangbusters, forcing a pair of 3-and-outs in what turned into a shootout. The defense’s deep-set alignment, a specific strategy to avoid cut-blocks and read keys, perfectly defended Johnson’s triple-option offense on the first six plays of the game.
But after that, it most certainly did not.
Tennessee’s nine months of preparation for Georgia Tech went out the window when Johnson quickly adjusted his gameplan and abandoned his usual attack. According to Shoop, Tech didn't run “a single snap of triple option” after the first two series.
“We kept using the term ‘Main Events,’” he explained. “Coach Johnson is so good, and obviously the quarterback was unbelievable and played really, really well, but they way we were aligned (early) and structured took away the triple-option and we did a really good job of that.
“(Johnson) recognized that quickly … and it was a yin and yang (thing).”
While the Vols were caught off guard by Johnson’s unconventional adjustments, part of UT’s issues stopping the run was a downsized rotation. The entire defensive staff spent much of the offseason talking about playing more guys, yet middle linebacker Colton Jumper was in for all 96 snaps. Defensive linemen Kahlil McKenzie, Darrell Taylor and Jonathan Kongbo all played at least 85 snaps. By the third quarter, the defense was gassed.
“I thought the first half we probably had a little bit of the upper hand,” Shoop said.
“I thought the third quarter they had a significant upper hand, and I think we caught up a little bit in the fourth quarter, had a big stop and obviously against those guys the fact that our offense did not turn it over and we created two takeaways I thought was really, really good.”
With a truncated game week and guys still recovering from a double-overtime emotional thriller, Shoop plans to play more young guys — linemen like Matthew Butler, Deandre Johnson and Kivon Bennett — against Indiana State this Saturday.
But he’s said that before, and Hoke indicated the freshmen linemen may not see significant snaps unless the game gets out of hand.
“Well, we got to go play first. We have to do our jobs and then we’ll see what happens from there,” Hoke said, when I asked him specifically if they’d get Johnson and Butler involved Saturday.
Tennessee rewatched the Tech tape early Tuesday morning before flushing the performance and moving onto the Sycamores. While Shoop lamented a lack of communication and missed tackles (18 in total) in the win, he still has high hopes for his unit. Although Tennessee's defense has allowed 600+ yards in four of the last five games, Shoops wants folks to reserve their opinions on his defense for a couple more weeks.
“I wouldn't make too many judgments based on that one game,” he said “Wait until we get into a more traditional game. … I came in and watched the film early Tuesday morning, and after I watched the first half, some guys started trickling in, and I (said), ‘You know, we played really good in the first half.’
"I do think we wore down, but I wouldn't make too many judgements. I think the identity of a team and the identity of a unit kind of evolves after the first couple of games, so I’d give it a little bit more a chance before you make too many judgments about who we are and what we’re about.”