Getting to the top in the SEC is about playing great defense. There is no way around that. Look at Arkansas last year; the Razorbacks scored points by the boatload—until they played the top defenses. (They lost to Bama 38-14 and LSU 41-17.)
I should stop here and note that Arkansas did win 11 games last year. The Hogs, defense while not the best, played well.
The Tennessee coaching staff is hard at work improving all three levels of a defense that ranked No. 28 nationally in 2011.
But in the SEC, that fell well short of winning regularly.
It's safe to say that the offense often failed in giving a helping hand, as well.
Three times in 2011, the Vols defense held SEC east opponents under 21 points (Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky). More offense in any of those games might have a brought victory.
Still, the job of the defense is to keep the other guy's score lower than yours—thus, three close opportunities went the other way.
On the surface you could say the defensive performance was adequate in 2011. But a closer look at the numbers reveals a defense that gave up almost twice the yardage and nearly three times the points per game as the top unit in the conference in 2011.
That is not good enough.
I'm not saying that UT fans should expect numbers that match those of defending national champion Alabama this year. But to be a contender in the SEC East, the defense must improve over last year, regardless of the improved offense.
Follow me for an update on where the Volunteer's defense is at the start of fall practice.