You can justify just about anything with statistics but sometimes crunching the numbers provides real insight: The value of senior receiver Gerald Jones to Tennessee's offense, for instance.

Because of a hand injury, Gerald Jones has played in just two of Tennessee's first five games this fall. He played in Game 1 vs. UT Martin, when the Vols converted on 5 of 15 third-down opportunities. He also played in Game 5 at LSU, when the Vols converted on 7 of 15 third-down opportunities.

So, in the two games featuring Jones, Tennessee converted on 12 of 30 third-down plays. That amounts to a solid 40-percent success rate.

Conversely, the Vols were utterly inept on third down in the three games Jones missed - going 2 of 15 in Game 2 vs. Oregon, 2 of 13 in Game 3 vs. Florida and 2 of 15 in Game 4 vs. UAB. That's a combined 6 of 43, which works out to a putrid 13.9-percent success rate.

Is Gerald Jones that critical to Tennessee's third-down success? Probably. Four of his six Game 1 catches were on third down, with two of them producing first downs.

He was even more of a factor on third down last weekend at LSU. Three of his five receptions came on third down, and each of the three produced a first down. He twice extended the Vols' initial touchdown drive, making an eight-yard reception on a third-and-four and a 25-yard catch/run on a third-and-three at the Tiger 29. With Tennessee up 14-10 and looking to put the game away in the final minutes, Jones caught a clutch seven-yard pass on third-and-five at the Vol 38-yard line.

Bottom line: Of the 12 third-down plays Tennessee converted in Games 1 and 5, Jones single-handedly accounted for five of them.

Here's another number worth considering: Tennessee converted on twice as many third-down plays in the two games Jones played (12) as it did in the three games he didn't play (6). This suggests that, even when he isn't making a third-down catch, he's loosening the defense a bit for others.

Quarterback Matt Simms admitted this week that he felt more comfortable just having Jones on the field again last Saturday.

"I really did, actually," Simms said. "I know earlier I said that one guy can't really affect our entire season. But having him at practice all week - his swagger in the huddle - it really kind of ignited a little fire in our offense a little bit, especially for some of the younger receivers. It's kind of tough for them to listen to a quarterback sometimes. It's better to listen to another receiver to kind of get energized.

"Having Gerald back out there was awesome. He made a lot of great plays for us, a lot of crucial third-down catches for us. That's why we need him; he can come up in the clutch for us when we need it."

Simms isn't alone in that assessment. The numbers say it, too.

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