Trouble with tackling causes Tennessee's defensive woes

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) There's no mystery regarding what has caused Tennessee's defensive deficiencies.

''I don't think it's any secret,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ''We have to do a much better job of tackling, especially in the open field.''

Tennessee's tackling issues have played a major role in allowing the Volunteers to blow two-touchdown leads in three of their last four games. Tennessee (2-3, 0-2 SEC) must correct the problem to end its slide Saturday against No. 19 Georgia (4-1, 1-1).

The Vols have allowed 414 yards per game to rank last in the Southeastern Conference in total defense. They're yielding nearly 4 1/2 yards per carry and have given up far too many big plays.

Tennessee has allowed nine plays from scrimmage of at least 40 yards, more than twice as many as any other SEC team. The Vols also have given up a league-high 14 plays from scrimmage of at least 30 yards.

The Vols' tackling troubles were particularly apparent last week in a 24-20 loss to Arkansas.

Drew Morgan caught safety Brian Randolph leaning the wrong way and turned a 13-yard pass into a 52-yard gain that set up Arkansas' first touchdown. Four different Vols appeared to get a hand on Rawleigh Williams during his 44-yard run in the second quarter. Dominique Reed caught an 11-yard pass and turned it into a 33-yard touchdown by running between a handful of defenders without getting touched.

''It really wasn't to our standard as `Orange Swarm' defense,'' Tennessee linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. said. ''We have to put our identity on film and have a good week.''

Tennessee players say they've failed to make tackles in part because they've taken improper angles at ball carriers.

''We have a defense that gives a lot of effort,'' Randolph said. ''Everyone's running to the ball, they see the ball thrown and they just run to it. Sometimes that leads you to get cut back on. We've got to focus on keeping the same effort, just with smarter angles and leverage.''

Tennessee allowed Arkansas to run for 275 yards last week, with Alex Collins gaining 154 of them. The Vols now face a Georgia offense that averages 244.8 yards rushing per game. NicK Chubb, the nation's third-leading rusher, averages 8.2 yards per carry. Sony Michel has gained 6.7 yards per run.

The Bulldogs are aware of the success Arkansas had running the ball against Tennessee, but they're taking nothing for granted.

''I won't say it encourages us because they are going to do some game-planning,'' Michel said. ''They know we are a running team, so I'm sure they are going to make adjustments to try and stop the run.''

The Vols are hoping the Arkansas experience will help prepare them for Georgia. They see similarities between the two run-oriented offenses.

But none of that will matter unless they tackle better.

''We're going to have those same confrontations and same challenges on Saturday with the two (Georgia) backs, with Michel and Chubb,'' Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek said. ''They're cutback runners, a lot like Collins was. We're going to have guys in place. We've worked hard on the fundamentals of tackling. Now we've got to do it and get them down.''

---

AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Athens, Georgia, contributed to this story.

---

AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.