Third-down blues

Tennessee has a chance to prevail this Saturday afternoon if it can routinely create third-and-one situations. Otherwise, the Vols could be in a world of hurt against the 10th-ranked Florida Gators.

The Big Orange converted just 2 of 15 third-down opportunities Saturday night vs. Oregon. The longest conversion - believe it or not - was one yard.

It's true. The Vols converted a third-and-one in the second quarter when quarterback Matt Simms sneaked for two yards. They converted another third-and-one in the third quarter when tailback Tauren Poole rushed for three yards.

The other 13 third-down conversion attempts failed. Two of the 13 were third-and-five opportunities. The other 11 were third-and-8 or longer, which would qualify them as "third-and-long" situations.

"In the passing game, whenever you have third and long, it's tough. It really is," Simms said. "The defenses can really hone in on what you're doing on offense because we are at a disadvantage."

Counting a 5-of-15 performance in Game 1 vs. UT Martin of the Football Championship Subdivision, Tennessee is converting just 23.3 percent (7 of 30) on third-down opportunities this fall. That's unacceptable.

"We're struggling a little bit on third down because we're struggling a little bit throwing the ball in the drop-back game," head coach Derek Dooley conceded. "There's a lot of reasons for that. It's not just the quarterback, you know.

"It takes good protection. It takes a good snap. It takes good, fast routes, recognizing the coverage, delivering the football and then catching it. We've got to get better at that."

With five new starters in the offensive line, Tennessee's pass protection has been understandably erratic. The absence of star receiver Gerald Jones due to a broken bone in his hand is another negative. Yet another extenuating circumstance is the modest production from tight end Luke Stocker, who missed much of preseason camp with a shoulder problem.

One often overlooked reason for Tennessee's third-down woes is that the Vols are generally unproductive on first down. This tends to create third-and-long situations.

"The biggest problem we had against Oregon is that we didn't win first down, like we set our goals to," Simms said. "Our goal is to win first down at least 65 to 70 percent of the time. I think it turned out that we won first down 35 percent of the time. Whenever that happens, it's going to be tough."

What follows is a review of every third-down play in the Vols' loss to Oregon, with a recap of the first-down yardage in parenthesis.

FIRST QUARTER

3rd and 13: Poole 4-yard rush (Poole loses 1 yard)

3rd and 10: Simms to Oku 4-yard pass (incomplete pass)

3rd and 8: Simms to Stocker 2-yard pass (Oku 2-yard run)

SECOND QUARTER

3rd and 1: Simms 2-yard sneak (Oku 2-yard run)

3rd and 9: Poole 5-yard rush (Oku loses 2 yards)

3rd and 5: incomplete pass (Oku 3-yard run)

3rd and 12: Poole 3-yard run (Poole 3-yard run)

THIRD QUARTER

3rd and 10: Simms to Moore 8-yard pass (incomplete)

3rd and 13: Simms pass intercepted, returned for TD (-5 false start)

3rd and 17: Simms to Poole pass loses 4 yards (-8 holding penalty)

3rd and 1: Poole 3-yard rush (Poole 5-yard run)

3rd and 11: incomplete pass (8-yard sack)

FOURTH QUARTER

3rd and 5: Simms to Z. Rogers pass for no gain (incomplete)

3rd and 16: Simms sacked for loss of 5 (-5 false start)

3rd and 8: incomplete (Neal 1-yard run)


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