KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- One of Tennessee’s brighter spots from Saturday’s loss at LSU -- and one of the reasons the Vols were in it to the bitter end -- was the play on nearly all phases of special teams.
UT punted five times for a 48.2-yard average while allowing heralded Tigers return man Patrick Peterson only 30 yards on three tries, or barely a third of his SEC-leading average (28.1) entering the game. Peterson also was limited to 64 yards on three kickoff returns -- just a 21.3-yard mark that was 10 yards below his norm entering the weekend.
There to make three of the six coverage tackles was sophomore safety Janzen Jackson, whose homecoming to his native Louisiana included seven tackles overall, his second career interception and another pass breakup.
“We need more Janzen Jacksons,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “He’s fast; he’s disruptive -- that’s why he’s on those two units. We say, ‘Well, he needs to rest.’ And I say, ‘Well, they just started the drive on the 18. If we rest him, there’s a chance they may start the drive on the 40. Is a couple plays of rest worth two first downs?’ Rest him on defense, that’s what I say.
“We’ve got to play him. The field position is too important, especially the way we’re playing. We’re having to grind it out. We’re not a three-and-out defense like we want to be, and we’re certainly not a quick-strike, fast and explosive offense. So that means we need to make them go the long way.”
LSU’s average starting field position was its own 26-yard line Saturday compared to Tennessee beginning play at the UT 33. Not much of a difference, but certainly in the Vols’ favor.
“They believed in the plan, they played fast, they played aggressive, there wasn’t a lot of thinking -- and the players played better,” Dooley said. “I was proud of them. And it came against a real good squad. They got challenged, and we’re going to have another one this week.”
Georgia, Saturday’s opponent in Athens, is top-five in the league in both punt returns and kickoff returns. The Vols are 11th in both categories but appear to be showing signs of life, thanks to freshman Eric Gordon.
The Nashville native on Saturday turned in a punt return of 21 and a kickoff return of 34 -- both team highs for 2010.
“He hit the return with conviction,” Dooley said. “That was my biggest thing -- you’ve got to go and he went. All of a sudden, ‘Oh, my goodness, I’m at the 40.’ So he’s doing better; he’s taking ownership in it and he wants to be good at it. Time will tell.”
The Vols also were solid punting the ball at LSU. Freshman Michael Palardy boomed his debut attempt 51 yards, and then senior Chad Cunningham followed that with a 47.5-yard average on four punts. Cunningham is fourth in the SEC and 35th nationally with a 42.8-yard average.
One bit of bad news for Tennessee is at placekicker, where senior Daniel Lincoln is battling a groin injury. Dooley said Lincoln did not kick during Tuesday’s practice and that there was a good chance he wouldn’t be available for Saturday’s game. Palardy, who already is handling kickoffs but missed his only field goal attempt from 45 yards at LSU, will kick the placements if Lincoln cannot go.
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