Derek Dooley Building a Winner: Sal Sunseri Will Be Great for Vols

Kevin KingSenior Analyst IIJuly 24, 2012

NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 5:  Defensive line coach Sal Sunseri of the Carolina Panthers talks with his players on the sideline during the game against the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome on December 5, 2004 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Panthers defeated the Saints 32-21.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Justin Wilcox will do well working for Steve Sarkisian and the Washington Huskies. Sarkisian's defense gave up 36 points per game last year, and he desperately needed help.

Wilcox runs the kind of defense that will cut that number by a third and get into the mid-20s—a good defense for Washington, but not good enough for Tennessee.

I don't know about the rest of you Vols fans out there, so you tell me. Was two years of watching Wilcox's defense versus SEC teams making you tear up thinking about Chief, too? 

Derek Dooley hired Sal Sunseri from Alabama in an attempt to find someone who can get a Tennessee defense that will perform as well as others in the upper tier of the SEC. The 2011 national champs (Alabama) defensively averaged giving up eight points and 184 total yards per game.

Tennesee's defense in 2011 allowed an average of 340 yards and 22.6 points per game. Those are numbers they would be proud to have in Washington. But Knoxville is across the country and about a million miles away from Washington in terms of the football competition they face.

The 2011 Vols were ranked No. 28 in the nation in total defense. That's a number that sounds OK on the surface—until you dig a little deeper. They were ranked No. 7 in the SEC. Ahead of them were Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Vanderbilt. Vandy? OK, that's enough for me! 

There are some people who think that Justin Wilcox would have eventually gotten UT's defense to the same levels of performance. I'm not among them. Neither is Coach Dooley, who didn't seem overly upset to lose young Wilcox to Washington last year.

Just before writing this article, I watched a replay of the UT/Florida game from 2011. Florida couldn't move the ball against the better defenses all year. They fattened their offensive stats up on teams like Florida Atlantic (41 points), UAB (39) and Furman (54).

Against the better defenses they faced, it was more like Alabama (10), LSU (11), Auburn (6), FSU (7) and South Carolina (12). 

UT made them look like an offensive machine!

They scored 33 points and gained the UT average, 347 yards. It could have been worse, as they missed a couple more scoring opportunities.

So, if you ever get to missing Coach Wilcox, I suggest you plug in a copy of that Florida game last year. It will help you get right over it. Also, take a look at Boise State's defensive numbers the year after Wilcox left for Tennessee. They actually improved—significantly.

There was a new energy at UT in defensive practices through spring. I strongly believe that Sunseri will turn out to be one of the best hires Coach Dooley has made. Like Wilcox, Sunseri's defenses will be looking for numbers. But instead of concentrating on overall rankings, I believe they will be looking for more sacks, more turnovers, more pressure on the quarterbacks and that kind of stuff.

Good luck to young Wilcox back in his home of the Pacific northwest. I am sure he will do a good job there. I can't swear yet that Sunseri will build the better defense at Tennessee. But I know from his playing experience and what he has done lately, he knows what it looks like.

For now, that's an improvement.