The Tennessee defense has shown a couple of different faces so far in only 5 games this season. On one hand, they pretty much totally shut down Akron, Ball State, and LSU. On the other, they gave up 27 to Pitt (sans Kenny Pickett) and 33 to Florida and Anthony Richardson, who has only looked good in that one game this season.
At 17.8 points per game, they’re 22nd in the country, but they’re also giving up nearly 310 yards per game in the passing game. On the other hand, they’re only giving up 2.8 yards per carry, and have 14 total sacks spread out through 10 different players. DC Tim Banks runs an extremely aggressive scheme that will routinely rush 6-7 players, daring the offense to prove they can and will consistently punish the blitz.
Edge rusher Byron Young (not Alabama’s Byron Young!) leads the team with 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. The rest of the defensive line is mostly built on the old Saban 3-4 philosophy of taking on as many blockers as possible to allow the linebackers room to knife into the backfield.
Meanwhile, linebackers Aaron Beasley and Jeremy Banks are essentially big safeties playing in the middle. They’re fast, aggressive, and rack up a whole lot of tackles, though, again, they depend on the big 3 up front to really keep things clear for them.
The secondary, though, has been the problem child for the Vols. Senior safety Jaylen McCollough has been the only real steady performer, and he may not even play this weekend after being arrested for aggravated assault.
With or without him, though, Four of the Vols’ six leading tacklers are all defensive backs, which is never a great sign for the health of the defense. Essentially, the front 7 goes all out for negative plays and leave the secondary out to dry and just hang on for dear life for most of the game.
And while they’ve been stout against the run so far this year, their offense has also jumped out to an early scoring explosion every game, so the defense has really only had to play against teams playing catch up. We really don’t know a whole lot about what their neutral state defense looks like just yet.
Alabama is going to have some bad drives, and they’re also going to bust a lot of big plays. Obviously, a lot depends on who is playing QB. If Bryce Young is back from his injury, he’ll likely shred the Tennessee defense to the tune of 42+ points. Young has shown this season that he’s put a lot of work into hitting hot routes against the blitz after his struggles there in 2021.
On the other hand, if Jalen Milroe is the guy, every play is going to be a surprise. He may sprint backwards for a 10-yard sack, or he may run around the blitzers and then have 60 yards of open space behind them to run. I think a Milroe-led offense is more likely going to be like 28-32 points or so. The Vols defense isn’t as talented as Texas A&Ms, nor is he likely to lose two fumbles and a pick again now that first game jitters are hopefully out of the way.