Where are big plays?

With two proven quarterbacks and a quintet of touted receivers, Tennessee's passing game was supposed to be awesome this fall. It isn't.

When the Vols failed to put up big passing numbers in Game 1, the explanation was that Alabama-Birmingham played conservatively in the secondary. When the Vols failed to put up big passing numbers in Game 2, the explanation was that Florida played aggressively in the secondary.

This suggests there are two ways to shut down UT's passing attack: 1. Play conservatively. 2 Don't play conservatively.

To date, the Vol air attack has produced two big plays – a 53-yard catch/run by C.J. Fayton and a 31-yarder by Jayson Swain. Both occurred in Game 1 against Alabama-Birmingham. Otherwise, the Vols essentially have been nickel-and-diming their way downfield.

For instance, if you take away Fayton's 53-yarder, his other five catches accounted for just 47 yards, roughly nine yards per reception. If you take away Swain's 31-yarder, his other four catches accounted for just 30 yards, roughly eight yards per grab.

Given the aggressiveness of Florida's defensive backs, Tennessee receivers should've been able to break some big plays Saturday night in Gainesville. But they didn't. Or couldn't. Maybe this receiving corps isn't as great as it's cracked up to be. Or maybe Florida's secondary is terrific. Maybe it's a combination of the two. The answer will become clearer as the season unfolds.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer noted that Vol wideouts weren't "getting off coverage" vs. Florida. As a result, they weren't creating the kind of separation that can produce big gains.

Maybe the quarterbacks share the responsibility for that. Erik Ainge has completed just 19 of 43 attempts (44.2 percent) for 204 yards. With two touchdowns and two interceptions, he has a modest passer efficiency rating of 90.08 – way down from 135.9 last season. Rick Clausen has completed 19 of 29 (65.5 percent) for 217 yards. He has thrown one touchdown and one interception, and checks in with an efficiency rating of 132.86. He started against Florida but was pulled after some early struggles.

"Rick didn't get a lot of opportunities," Fulmer noted, adding: "Erik led a couple of good drives."

The Vols nearly hit on several deep throws that might've produced more points and loosened up Florida's defense a bit. But close doesn't count.

"If we connect on a couple of those deep balls, it might've made things easier," Fulmer said. "We just didn't make those plays."

And, until they do, the passing game – and the offense, in general – will continue to struggle.


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