Is offense getting better?

After scoring just nine points through the first three quarters last weekend against lowly Duke, Tennessee's offense appears to be no further along than it was when the Vols opened the season against Fresno State back on Aug. 30.

But offensive coordinator Randy Sanders thinks the Vols have made progress, although he concedes that the statistics don't always reflect it.

''I think we have made improvements,'' he said. ''We haven't necessarily had the results we've wanted, but we have gotten better.''

Tennessee gained 433 yards of total offense in Game 1 vs. Fresno and peaked with 458 in Game 2 vs. Marshall. The only time the Vols hit the 400-mark since was in Game 7 against Alabama (492 yards) but only 275 of those yards were produced in regulation.

Except for a 34-point effort vs. Marshall, Tennessee's point totals this fall have been stuck in the low 20s -- 24 points vs. Fresno, 24 vs. Florida, 17 vs. South Carolina (regulation play only), 21 vs. Auburn, 14 vs. Georgia, 20 vs. Alabama (regulation play only) and 23 vs. Duke.

Tennessee may be lucky to hit the 20-point mark this Saturday against Miami, which has one of the NCAA's best defenses. The Hurricanes gave up 31 points to Virginia Tech last weekend but 21 of those came on a fumble return for touchdown, an interception return for touchdown and an interception return that set up a short touchdown drive.

Tennessee kicked a field goal on its first possession in last year's game with Miami but was shut down thereafter, losing 26-3. Sanders remembers that game well.

''Last year we averaged like 1.5 yards per play on first down, which makes for a lot of second-and-longs, which is not good,'' he said. ''We've got to get a lot more done on first down and stay out of those third-and-longs like we did last year.''

First down has been a feast-or-famine situation for Tennessee this season. Instead of making four or five yards on a consistent basis, the Vols have been amazingly inconsistent.

''This year, it seems like we either make a first down on first down or it's second and long,'' Sanders said. ''One of our goals is to average 5 yards per play on first down, and we've done that EVERY week. We average close to 7 yards per play on first down, which is phenomenal. The thing is, we either go 20 yards or zero. That skews your average a little bit.

''We've had three games when we haven't had a third-and-one or third-and-two. Everything has been longer than that. That's definitely a challenge. We've got to be more consistent with what we do on first down.''

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