Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks had to know the Kentucky game would be painful to oversee. There was every reason to think that the Wildcats would have the Vols in a pinch.
It’s become common knowledge that Tennessee’s defense survives on rushing the passer. Banks has proven a master of dialling up twists, stunts and exotic blitzes that bring extra pass rushers to make quarterbacks wince. However, Banks knew he had to make sure he stopped Kentucky’s vaunted running game and protect a suspect secondary, which had just lost its best player, cornerback Kamal Hadden, for the season due to injury.
“We went in the game very deliberate,” Banks said during his weekly press conference. “We knew what they wanted to be. I think they were leading the SEC in yards per carry. We didn’t want to allow those guys to do that, so we made a conscious effort to take the run away. You have to give those guys a lot of credit. The quarterback is a veteran player. He made a ton of great throws.
“Obviously, every game is different from our perspective. We try to identify what their strengths are, and we try to minimize it. Whatever the game plan needs to be to win the game is always what the game plan is. We felt like we needed to take away the run, and we felt like we did a great job that way.”
The Vols didn’t take risks up front in fear of opening up a running lane for standout tailback Ray Davis, who ran for just 42 yards on 16 carries. The Vols were straight forward in their pass rush, which was hampered by Kentucky’s penchant for keeping extra players in to block for quarterback Devin Leary, who completed 28 of 39 passes for 372 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s a sign of respect when they’re chipping you on the edges, when they’re getting in seven-man protections,” Banks said of why the Vols weren’t more aggressive up front. “There’s going to be a challenge, it really is. When you work as hard as those guys have worked, when you’re having a season as those guys are having, there are going to be some challenging games that way.”
“Obviously, they did a really good job that way with their protections. At the end of the day, we’re going to continue to take away the things that we feel they do best and then we’ll obviously make adjustments during the course of the game.”
So does that mean the Vols have lost their teeth on defense? Not at all. Banks can always release the fury when he doesn’t have a stout running game and a standout tailback like Davis to contend with. However, it does mean that the Vols are still concerned enough about their secondary to be safe and play more zone than man. Give credit to Banks for picking the game plan that worked against Kentucky. That didn’t mean he liked it.