Just how good are the Vols?

Linebacker Kevin Simon said Tennessee has underachieved each season he has played.

Each season? What about last season?

There's the rub -- Simon didn't play last season. He played on the 2003 and 2002 teams that ended the season with Peach Bowl losses. He redshirted in 2001.

This season, Simon is hopeful the Vols won't underachieve. That means, he's hopeful the offense doesn't underachieve because the offense has been nothing, if not underwhelming.

Tennessee's defense didn't have a hangover during a 27-10 victory over Ole Miss after an emotional win at LSU Monday night. But the offense did.

On 10 possessions, the Vols scored two touchdowns, one on a 14-yard drive. UT kicked two field goals, missed two field goals, had two fourth-down failures and punted twice. The Vols controlled the clock for almost 36 minutes, but didn't control the game.

Senior Rick Clausen, who entered the game having completed 66 percent of his passes, hit just 18 of 35. Clausen is banged up and it bothered his performance. He has a bum ankle, a thigh bruise, two dislocated fingers on his right (non-throwing) hand and a sore shoulder that he iced after the game.

``He's a tough guy,'' Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said of Clausen.

He might be tough, but when he's not healthy, he's not real affective.

``I thought Rick was a little slower moving around in the pocket,'' said UT offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. ``I thought he was affected by not using his legs on his throws and it may have affected his accuracy a time or two.''

Unlike previous games, Clausen didn't see the field well against Ole Miss. He not only missed open receivers with his arm, he missed them with his eyes.

That's one reason Vanderbilt scored more points against Ole Miss than Tennessee.

You wonder how many games Tennessee can win this season if the offense doesn't play better than it did against the Rebels. Eight? Seven? Six? It would surely lose to Georgia, Alabama and Notre Dame.

Simon thinks the defense is playing as well as it can. It has allowed 10 points per game - not counting scores set up by the offense for special teams.

Sanders says he thinks the offense is close. But at this level, close doesn't cut it.

Sanders said it's a dropped ball, a missed hole, a key penalty. Are those answers or excuses?

``It's not really (lack of) consistency,'' Sanders said. ``It's not really discipline. It's not really effort. It's just not quite happening, then a little bit of bad luck thrown in.''

Whatever the case, Tennessee's offense just isn't clicking, even though for the first time this season, the Vols scored in each half and didn't play both quarterbacks in the first half.

The main problem: UT's receivers. They have underachieved the way the secondary has overachieved. UT's talented wideouts aren't making many big plays. Receivers averaged less than 10 yards on 13 catches (13 for 124) against Ole Miss. This season, no receiver is averaging more than 15 yards per catch (minimum of two catches) and four are averaging less than 12 yards per catch.

Former Tennessee player Tim Irwin chastised UT's wide receivers, saying, ``They look like Tarzan and play like Jane.''

David Cutcliffe, former Ole Miss head coach and long-time UT assistant, said he's not a fan of rotating receivers as much as Tennessee does. Cutcliffe believes that hurts the continuity and chemistry between the receivers and quarterback.

You've got to wonder when Tennessee's receivers are going to show up.

You've got to wonder when Tennessee's offense is going to show up.

Sanders said he had more weapons than any season since he took over in 1999. It hasn't shown on the field. And it only gets tougher.

Georgia and Alabama are better defensively that LSU and Ole Miss - and, perhaps, Florida. Alabama ripped through Florida 31-3. Georgia is second in the SEC in scoring defense and total defense.

The onus is on Sanders. He's got to come up with some answers by Saturday or the Vols will have defeats to their main two rivals in the East Division. While a win over LSU kept the Vols in the race, a loss to Georgia would seal UT's fate - all but eliminating the Vols from the East Division title.

* Irwin praised UT's running backs.

Riggs had 125 yards on 26 carries and turned some no gains into positive yards. Arian Foster had 36 yards on 11 carries, including five consecutive runs for 19 yards and a touchdown to put the game away, 27-10.

``Hats off to (running backs coach) Trooper Taylor,'' Irwin said. ``I've never seen the running backs get more with less than any time I can remember.''

* UT ran from the shotgun more than any time, perhaps, in school history.

``A lot of times, you get defense making a little different call when you're in the shotgun,'' Sanders said, without being specific. ``We felt we needed to get more out of the run game in the shotgun, trying to balance up our gun sets a little bit.''

NOTES: True freshman running back Montario Hardesty has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of this season. He qualifies for a medical redshirt. . UT played 11 offensive linemen against Ole Miss. . Irwin said once Fulmer gets a lead, he's not going to bury guys. ``He's a pound the rock, eat the clock type coach,'' Irwin said. . One of the loudest cheers at the UT-Ole Miss game came when it was announced Alabama led Florida 7-0. The Tide won 31-3. . UT doesn't have a touchdown play of more than 12 yards and has just one play of more than 31 yards this season. The longest running play is 22 yards. . Ole Miss would have had minus-6 rushing yards if not for Mico McSwain's 56-yard run late in the game.


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