Vols still in no rush to hit opponents’ QB
Posted: Friday, September 21, 2012 7:01 pm
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s pass rushers believe they’ve done a decent job of harassing quarterbacks this season, but they’ve often frustrated themselves in the process.
The Volunteers (2-1) have recorded just four sacks, which puts them in a three-way tie for last place in the Southeastern Conference. Nobody on the roster has more than one sack thus far.
“It’s definitely a lot better than last year,” junior outside linebacker Jacques Smith said of the Vols’ pass rush. “Still, we can get better.”
Although the Vols say they’re rushing the passer better, switching schemes and coordinators hasn’t changed Tennessee’s sack total much at all. The Vols are on the exact same pace as last season, when they recorded 16 sacks in 12 games to rank 11th out of 12 SEC teams.
“It’s not where I want to be,” defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri said. “The thing is, we have to get better at that. People are delivering the ball fast. You’ve got to get your hands up and we’ve got to have tighter coverage, but we’ve got to get that (pass rush) going too.”
The good news for the Vols is that they’ve given their own quarterback plenty of time to throw the ball, as Tyler Bray has been sacked only twice all year. Tennessee’s pass rushers still realize they must make a bigger impact.
Granted, sacks aren’t always an accurate measure of how well a team rushes the passer.
The other two SEC teams with only four sacks are No. 2 LSU and No. 23 Mississippi State. LSU ranks fourth nationally in total defense and 16th in pass efficiency defense, while Mississippi State is 20th in scoring defense and 21st in pass efficiency defense. Tennessee is a respectable 29th in pass efficiency defense even after its 37-20 loss to Florida last week.
Sacks don’t measure how often a defense forces a quarterback into making a poor throw.
“We probably haven’t gotten what we needed, but there are a lot of times when we’re putting pressure on them,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “Sacks aren’t the only indicator.”
For example, Tennessee only sacked Mike Glennon once in a season-opening 35-21 victory over North Carolina State, but the Vols applied pressure on each of his two fourth-quarter interceptions.
But the loss to the Gators showed that simply pressuring a quarterback isn’t always enough.
One week after Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was sacked eight times in a 20-17 victory at Texas A&M, Tennessee couldn’t get to him once. Driskel threw two touchdown passes and rush for 81 yards to earn SEC offensive player of the week honors.
The Vols nearly sacked him a few times.
Linebackers Curt Maggitt and Dontavis Sapp were converging on Driskel just as he threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reed that put the Gators ahead for good late in the third quarter. Defensive back Eric Gordon was on his way to the quarterback as Driskel connected with Frankie Hammond on a 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
They just never got close enough.
“We’ve had like four or five sacks we would’ve had, (but) we didn’t get him down,” junior defensive end Maurice Couch said. “We had a lot of guys that missed tackles. We lost contain and he managed to escape. He’s a very agile quarterback.”
Tennessee’s game Sat-urday with Akron (1-2) represents a major opportunity for the pass rush to redeem itself.
Akron has thrown the ball 55.7 times per game this season and is tied for second nationally with 167 total pass attempts. Houston is the only Football Bowl Subdivision team that has passed more often. That means Tennessee will have plenty of chances to improve its sack totals Saturday before beginning a critical four-game stretch against No. 5 Georgia, Mississippi State, No. 1 Alabama and No. 7 South Carolina.
“Akron throws the ball a heck of a lot,” Sunseri said. “The ball’s going to be coming out fast. We’re going to have to disrupt their routes and get to the quarterback. It is a concern.”
If Tennessee sacks Akron quarterback Dalton Williams a few times Saturday, its pass rush will be much less of a concern heading into the toughest portion of the schedule.
Published in The Messenger 9.21.12