One of Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones' favorite slogans is rebuilding the Vols program "brick by brick."
In order to do that, he needs to take a wrecking ball to UT's defense.
Saturday's 31-3 road loss to No. 10 Missouri provided more of the same struggles as last week's blowout at Alabama. It also showed remnants of 2012's UT defense that allowed a league-high 35.7 points and 471.4 yards per game, the worst since 1893, according to the Associated Press' Steve Megargee.
Though the defense has improved, the numbers aren't drastically different. UT is allowing 29.4 points and 428.6 yards per game this year.
A toxic concoction of recruiting failures by Derek Dooley and a lack of depth from attrition left Tennessee with a glaring lack of speed and sheer talent. Against the breakneck pace of the Tigers, the Vols were several steps slow.
They couldn't even slow down Mizzou's backups.
Second-string quarterback Maty Mauk burst around blown rush lanes for first downs the few times when coverage was good downfield, and he found open receivers when it wasn't. Backup running back Russell Hansbrough took a third-quarter handoff and went 26 yards untouched into the end zone.
Defensive coordinator John Jancek didn't do a terrible job schematically. The Vols simply need to start over on defensive personnel moving forward into next season.
Jones currently has a recruiting class of 28 players, and multiple defenders are still being recruited in a haul that is expected to have turnover on its way to 30 prospects. As many as 15 of those project to defense.
The Vols have plenty of playing time to sell.
Junior cornerback Justin Coleman personified UT's struggles Saturday, getting beat several times on deep patterns. One time, he completely blew a coverage, allowing L'Damian Washington an uncontested 26-yard touchdown pass that drew him an earful from coaches.
Coleman is one of several Vols defenders who simply need to be over-recruited. Of the current defensive starters, just three—junior linebacker A.J. Johnson, sophomore safety Brian Randolph and freshman cornerback Cameron Sutton—deserve to keep their starting spots next year.
Tennessee has to replace six senior defensive starters, including all four defensive linemen. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
While everybody should expect the Vols to have major growing pains in rebuilding this defense, Jancek stands to have considerably more talent with which to work next season.
Players like 247Sports' top-ranked junior college outside linebacker Chris Weatherd and top-ranked junior college strong-side defensive end DaVonte Lambert seem ready-made to start with nice combinations of SEC size and speed.
In-state defensive back RaShaan Gaulden could start at nickelback for the Vols this season over former walk-ons JaRon Toney and Devaun Swafford. Four-star safeties Todd Kelly Jr. and Cortez McDowell should compete with LaDarrell McNeil as early as next year.
Other highly ranked recruits like Dillon Bates, Dewayne Hendrix and Derek Barnett also have opportunities to step right in and play.
UT's best pass-rusher, junior outside linebacker Curt Maggitt, also is expected to be full speed in 2014 after sitting out this season recovering from torn knee ligaments.
Tennessee will have an infusion of talent if the recruiting class holds firm and closes strong. But none of that is going to help this season as the Vols battle to make a bowl game.
The defense started the year making the most of turnovers, and it played its best game in a signature win over South Carolina. But there is not enough make-up to cover the blemishes of being slow and having inferior athletes.
That was the case Saturday, and it will be the same story next week when the Vols head home to play Auburn.
UT has to hope it can compete against AU and recapture some of the Neyland Stadium magic that was present when the Vols upset South Carolina. They have to take advantage of playing Vanderbilt and Kentucky—teams with similar talent—and hope for a bowl.
Then, they've got to recruit and reload on defense for next year. By the looks of the past two games, they'll be starting from scratch.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!