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Tennessee Football Defense a Silver Lining in Austin Peay Win

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The offense didn’t start off hot against FCS opponent Austin Peay. The receivers weren’t on the same page with quarterback Joe Milton. Luckily, the defense was firing on all cylinders.

While that’s encouraging, Tennessee’s offense will face a much different challenge against Florida on Saturday. Florida’s offense hasn’t been great this season, ranking 13th in the SEC in scoring offense with 30 points per game and sixth in the SEC in total offense with 453 yards per game. It’s a given that the Gators will be more talented than the Governors and the game will also be held in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Let’s just say things will be much tougher then they were on Saturday against Austin Peay, a game in which the Vols’ defense dominated.

Linebacker Aaron Beasley led the charge on the defensive side, finishing with a team-high nine tackles. Five of his tackles came for a loss, and he added two sacks to his impressive night.

“I thought he tackled extremely well,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “He was violent. I thought you saw his speed and athleticism in some of his pressures fighting to get to the quarterback. He had a sack. He played really well.”

Beasley’s night was a part of a dominant defensive performance, again, from Tennessee. The Vols held Austin Peay to just 79 yards on the ground while picking up seven sacks.

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The pass rush was an emphasis of the offseason for Tennessee’s coaching staff and it has clearly paid off.

“The development of those guys with coach Rodney Garner, coach Mike Ekeler, their ability to affect the game,” Heupel said. “Not just on pressures, but the front four. We’ve done that now. We’re going to go play a better opponent next week, we got to do that on the road. For us to be successful defensively we’re going to need to continue to get that from those guys. The depth of that group is a strength for us right now, too.”

With Keenan Pili sidelined, defensive coordinator Tim Banks turned to some young linebackers to fill the void. Elijah Herring got the starting nod alongside Beasley, but freshmen Arion Carter and Jeremiah Telander rotated in.

Whoever Banks decides to go with in Gainesville will have big shoes to fill in the absence of Pili. Florida ranks sixth in the SEC in total offense. The Gators are fifth in rushing offense and sixth in passing offense.

Do the numbers jump off the page? No, but it is an SEC opponent on the road. Luckily for the Vols, defense travels.

“I thought we had a pretty good pace,” Safety Wesley Walker said. “We came together. We just lost (Keenan) Pili, but we have some younger guys that are ready to step up and contribute to the team winning. We have some stuff to clean up, some little small things that we need to fix, but I feel like we are headed in the right direction.”

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