Vols seek frosh’s help to stop leaks in defense
Posted: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 7:00 pm
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee’s attempt to stop its penchant for allowing big plays could result in an expanded role for freshman safety LaDarrell McNeil.
“There’s a good chance he’s going to start,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Monday. “We’ll see. We’ll see how he does this week. He’s a good football player.”
Tennessee’s preliminary depth chart for its game Saturday at No. 19 Mississippi State lists McNeil as the second-team strong safety behind junior Brent Brewer, but Dooley indicated he is continuing to evaluate his personnel and could make changes later this week.
Brewer moved into the starting lineup for Tennessee’s last two games after Brian Randolph tore his anterior cruciate ligament Sept. 15 in a 37-20 loss to Florida.
The Vols have allowed six touchdown plays of 50 yards or greater over its last three games, with five of those long gains coming on running plays. Five of those six touchdowns went at least 70 yards. Tennessee spent the off week searching for ways to prevent similar breakdowns the rest of the season.
“Most of those plays generally start with a little bit of an alignment error,” Dooley said. “Then it’s not playing the blocks very well just from a toughness standpoint. Then the ball breaks and not being able to get the guy down in space. There were some trends. Of all the things you’d say we’ve got to stop during this open date it’s these long runs over 30 yards or really over 15 yards.
“We’ve had some really long ones, more than you want in a career.”
McNeil and Tennessee’s other true freshmen haven’t been made available to reporters yet this season, but McNeil’s teammates and coaches have spent the last couple of weeks raving about him. McNeil moved into the two-deep after Randolph’s injury and made an impression with his performance Sept. 29 in a 51-44 loss at Georgia.
“He’s a real mature kid,” junior free safety Byron Moore said. “He’s up there studying the playbook. He’s watching extra film. He’s a ball hawk. He’s always around the ball. He’s flying around back there. Anytime you can get somebody flying to the ball like he does, you’ve got to have him on the field.”
Tennessee is seeking answers in its attempt to upgrade its run defense.
The Vols are yielding 5.17 yards per carry, the most of any SEC team. Boston College (5.18), Clemson (5.36) and Kansas (5.58) are the only major-conference programs giving up more yards per rush. Tennessee ranks 12th out of 14 SEC teams in scoring defense (29.6) and 13th in total defense (425.8).
Mississippi State’s longest run of the season thus far went just 44 yards, but the Bulldogs are averaging 4.84 yards per carry. Mississippi State’s Ladarius Perkins is the SEC’s second-leading rusher with 499 yards and six touchdowns on 82 attempts.
“The two teams that have beaten them have really relied on the big play,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. Published in The Messenger 10.9.12