KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee understands it will take more than a 45-0 shutout of Austin Peay to prove that its defense has regained respectability.
The memories of last season are too fresh.
Tennessee's defense also delivered a strong performance in last year's season opener, as it produced four interceptions and a safety in a 35-21 victory over North Carolina State. The Volunteers went on to give up more points per game that season than any Tennessee defense since 1893.
So even though the defense took a clear step forward Saturday, the Volunteers realize they still have room to improve.
"We've just got to be very critical of ourselves when we come in and watch film," linebacker Dontavis Sapp said. "We got a shutout, but there are always things you can work on and things you can fix. It's always that way because, you know, we didn't give up zero yards. There's always something you can get better at."
Tennessee's last shutout was a 27-0 victory over Middle Tennessee on Nov. 5, 2011. One week later, the Volunteers lost 49-7 to an Arkansas team coached by Bobby Petrino. They'll hope to have more success Saturday when they again follow a shutout by facing Petrino, now the coach at Western Kentucky.
Petrino, regarded as one of college football's top offensive minds, led the Hilltoppers to a 35-26 victory over Kentucky in his Western Kentucky debut.
"We've known for a while that they were going to be a really good team," Tennessee nose tackle Daniel Hood said. "Last time we played that coach, he beat us pretty bad down in Arkansas. So we owe him a good one."
The week after the Western Kentucky game, Tennessee travels to No. 3 Oregon, which gained a school-record 772 yards Saturday in a 66-3 blowout of Nicholls.
Although the schedule is about to get much tougher, Tennessee's defense still has reason for optimism.