(This is a continuation of a post from yesterday on Tennessee’s defense versus Ole Miss) While the Tennessee Volunteers lost 34-3 to the Ole Miss Rebels, the game was not a total disappointment for the Vols. Tennessee’s defense is significantly improved this season, and despite giving up 34 points, they played very well versus the Rebels.
7 points came late in the game after backups were in, 14 points came after the Vols turned the ball over and left the defense in a difficult position, and 10 points came after one Vol made a mistake and gave up a big play play. The Rebels only sustained one long scoring drive all game, and it only resulted in a field goal.
Yesterday, we examined how the Vols slowed down receiver Laquon Treadwell by matching him with corner back Cam Sutton and rolling zone coverage to him. Today, we will look at how the Vols pass rush forced Ole Miss into their worst passing output of the season.
Tennessee had easily their best game of the season rushing the passer, sacking Bo Wallace six times and impacting him many more times. Wallace only completed 46.4% of his passes, easily a season low, and was clearly impacted by the pressure. Six sacks was a season high for Tennessee and a season worst for Ole Miss.
The first, and simplest, way they did this was just by winning one on one matchups at the line. The Vols defensive ends in particular all played exceptionally well.
Freshman defensive end Derek Barnett was perhaps been Tennessee’s best newcomer this year. Though seven games, Barnett already has 9.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Against Ole Miss, Barnett had 3 sacks and dominated from the opening whistle.
In this example, Barnett was playing right end. The Vols were simply rushing their front four and playing base coverage behind it. Immediately, Barnett used his hands to rip through and run inside the left tackle.Wallace tried to step up with Barnett bearing down on him, but he stepped right into the waiting arms of defensive tackle Owen Williams, who helped Barnett bring Wallace down.Barnett was not the only pass rusher to make an impact. On an early 3rd and 7, Jancek called for the Vols 3-3-5 package. Tennessee lined up with 6 players at the line of scrimmage, and everyone was standing up and moving around to disguise where the pressure was coming from.
Defensive end Curt Maggitt is the player to watch here. Rushing off the left edge, he set up the right tackle with a jab step to the left.Once he had the tackle off balance, Maggitt cut back inside. Because of the pressure the Vols showed pre-snap, none of the other linemen were in position to double Maggitt. They all had other players they were assigned to block, then were left standing when only three rushed.
Maggitt continued his path to the quarterback, as the right tackle fell to the ground. Wallace was able to get the ball out before Maggitt brought him down, but it was inaccurate and incomplete. Even though Maggitt didn’t get credit for the sack, his pressure resulted in a huge 3rd down stop for the Vols.In the 2nd quarter, Jancek went back to his 3-3-5 personnel when Ole Miss was in another 3rd and long. This time, the Vols lined up as if they were in their traditional 4-2, but joker linebacker Chris Weatherd was lined up at the defensive end spot and Maggitt was lined up over the offensive guard.Weatherd just used a simple speed rush to get by the right tackle and get to Wallace.Wallace stepped up in the pocket to avoid Weatherd, but Maggitt was in position to keep him from running. Wallace had to attempt a pass on the move, and it was very inaccurate, sailing far out of bounds.
Once again, even though Weatherd did not get the sack, his pass rush forced an incompletion and resulted in a 3rd down stand. Not to be outdone by the others, defensive end Corey Vereen decided he wanted to get in on the action. Vereen played perhaps his best game as a Vol against Ole Miss, and he was constantly causing trouble for the Rebels front.
Here Ole Miss called a bootleg pass play. The offensive line slid to the left and Wallace rolled to the right. H-Back Evan Engram faked a slice block then slipped into the right flat. Vereen, the left end, was left unlocked in hope that he would bite on the run fake.
Vereen instantly recognized the bootleg. Rather than just pursuing Wallace, he stopped and jammed Engram. Often, the H-Back in the flat is the open receiver on the bootleg pass. The Vols like their ends to jam the H-Back on this play to impact the rhythm of the play, and Vereen did his job well.After coming off Engram, Vereen ran at Wallace. With no receivers open immediately, Wallace was forced to scramble to his left to avoid Vereen. He couldn’t get away however, as Vereen brought him down for his first sack of the game.While the Vols got outstanding effort from their edge rushers, Jancek was also able to use his scheme to get the Vols some pressure.
Early in the game, Ole Miss went with an empty backfield in a 3rd and long. Jancek dialed up his 3-3-5 package and again put six players right at the line of scrimmage.
With only five blockers and six potential rushers, the Rebels had a problem. They decided to slide their protection to the right. This means that AJ Johnson would be a free rusher if he blitzed, but Ole Miss could pick up everyone else.
Johnson blitzed, but the other two linebackers, Weatherd and jalen Reeves-Maybin, dropped into coverage. This left Johnson with a free path to the quarterback and two Ole Miss linemen not blocking anyone. Johnson was unable to get the sack, but he flushed Wallace out to the left. On the run and being chased by Johnson, Wallace was unable to throw the ball and was eventually run out of bounds by Barnett.This was a really nice call by Jancek. By showing a 6 man rush, he made Ole Miss adjust their protection and was able to get a free rusher.
In the 3rd quarter, Jancek called for another interesting scheme. On a 3rd and medium, Jancek stuck with his 4-2 front, but had both linebackers blitz. Johnson and Reeves-Maybin ran a cross dog stunt, as each blitzed through the opposite A gap. Both tackles and the right end rushed, while Maggitt, the left end, dropped to pick up the back in man coverage.
The right guard picked up Johnson while the back stepped up to block Reeves-Maybin.
On the offensive left side, Barnett and defensive tackle Jordan Williams both got a good push. The back missed his cut block, and as Wallace pulled up to throw, Reeves-Maybin leaped into the air with his hands up. His passing lane now gone, Wallace was forced to tuck the ball. With Reeves-Maybin, Williams, and Barnett all closing in from his left, Wallace stepped up the right. And he stepped right into Johnson, who took Wallace down for the sack.
These are just a few examples, but these plays highlight how the Vols were able to get pressure on the Rebels. The Vols defensive line played exceptionally well, as 3 different Vols recorded career highs in sacks. Even those that did not record sacks, such as Maggitt, Williams, and Weatherd, did a good job of keeping Wallace uncomfortable and forcing incompletions. It was not just pass rushing either, as the Vols front did a good job of handing the Rebels rushing attack.
Overall, Tennessee got outstanding effort from their defensive line. Barnett and Vereen both easily played their best game as a Vol, and look to be a very nice defensive end combination for the next two and a half years. Jancek and his staff did a good job of using the 3-3-5 and the blitz packages to keep Ole Miss off guard and get pressure on Wallace.
Even though they lost the game, the Vols defense played very well and has proved to be one of the best in the conference.