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Why Tennessee LB Keenan Pili got the Vols’ game ball and DC Tim Banks on the effort against UVA 

Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks can know all the ingredients and even the recipe, but the final product has to pass the taste test. Banks seemed to think the Vols were scrumptious in their first outing.

“I thought the overall intensity that is required to play great defense was there,” Banks said when asked about the Vols’ 49-13 win over Virginia on Saturday in both teams’ season openers. “I thought the guys were really intent on doing their job and straining. And then third, it was great to be able to get multiple guys opportunities on the field. And every rep was so valuable. Those reps some of those younger guys got, we believe will pay great dividends for them later.”

The Vols, who moved up to No. 9 in both the AP and coaches’ poll, dominated the Cavs throughout the game, which was held in Nashville, and continued to turn in game-changing plays that should prove valuable in closer contests. Tennessee registered four sacks and 11 tackles for a loss against the Cavs while just allowing 201 total yards. Tennessee’s strong push from their defensive front was clearly what stood out in Saturday’s contest

“I thought it was great,” Banks said during his press conference on Tuesday. “I thought the guys for the most part did a really good job communicating sets — backfield, down and distance, all the situational communication that’s necessary. I thought those guys were great in that regard.”

Banks, however, was quick to point out that the Vols weren’t perfect. There were some busts that he saw when reviewing the game. The Vols were good – maybe even great – on defense, but they didn’t play a perfect game.

“I’ve never coached a (perfect) game…but I thought overall it was great,” Banks said. “As far as the pass rush goes, that’s obviously been an area of emphasis for us since we’ve gotten here. We feel like we’ve got some young guys that are quickly developing at a high rate. And obviously some guys that have been here continue to grow in that role as well. So we’re by no means a finished product. We definitely like the start that we had last Saturday.”

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While the Vols clearly dominated as a group against Virginia, there was one player who stood out in the Vols’ coaches’ minds. Middle linebacker Keenan Pili received a game ball for his efforts, which included handling many of the defensive calls and making four tackles. The stats may have not been there for Pili, but the leadership was present in the mid-state has been a constant since he enrolled at Tennessee in January after transferring from BYU.

“Just everything that he brought to practice since he’s been here,” Banks said when asked why Pili earned the weekly honor. “Just great leadership, communication…just having the ability to command the defense. Making sure the front is where needs to be, communicating with (linebacker Aaron) Beasley. Making sure everybody’s where they need to be at all times is the No. 1 thing and just his overall physicality with the size that he has. 

“You want big guys, but obviously in this day and and you have to be able to function in space. He’s able to do those things for us, so we’re very pleased with what he brought, just his overall toughness, smarts and communication skills. We’re excited for him. We really are.”

Tennessee wasn’t tested much in the secondary as the Vols’ pass rush ruled the day. That allowed Banks to play several defensive backs and evaluate them individually and as a group.

“We tried to play a bunch of guys,” Banks said. “That’s kind of been our mantra. We’re gonna play great defense here and we’re gonna recruit at a high level. The more guys that we can get out there to play, the better it is for our program moving forward. 

The Vols played in front of a “home” crowd in Nashville on Saturday. That will be amped up considerably when the Vols host Austin Peay on Saturday in Neyland Stadium.

“Obviously, it was great play to in Nissan Stadium, but to get a chance to get back to Neyland is something that everybody’s fired up for,” Banks said. “Obviously Austin Peay is coming in here. We have a great deal of respect for people that are in our state. A lot of players in this state, obviously on that team. So we know we’re gonna have our hands full just to defend these guys and play at the level that we need to play at.”

For Tennessee fans, Banks just needs to keep cooking.

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