Lippin' three-footers

Because he is an avid golfer, Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders often uses golf analogies to explain football's intricacies. Earlier this week, for instance, he compared making a big play to making a birdie on a par-5 hole.

"It's kind of like we're knocking it on the green in two, rolling the eagle putt three feet past, then missing the three-footer coming back," he said. "We're doing so many things well and we're so close to busting out but we keep lipping out the three-footers."

Tennessee's inability to hit an occasional long pass or break an occasional long run has frustrated UT's fans all season. It has frustrated UT's coaches, too. Still, Sanders believes a little success will breed more success.

"Once you start making the three-footers," he said, "it makes it a whole lot easier to make those eagles, too."

Because of injuries to Richie Gandy, David Ligon and Cody Douglas, tackle Albert Toeaina is the only offensive lineman to start the Vols' first four games at the same position. This instability probably has contributed to the fact Gerald Riggs' 21-yard burst at LSU is Tennessee's only run of 20 or more yards all season.

"The lack of continuity up front has hurt us a couple of times," Sanders said. "We were so close to having a couple of big runs come out of there Saturday (vs. Ole Miss) but we didn't quite execute an assignment or a technique quite right. Part of that is that we've had so many different combinations and so many guys moving around."

Another reason the Vols have had trouble making big plays in the ground game is that they've had so much trouble making big plays in the passing game.

"A little bit of it is that we haven't hit long passes," Sanders noted, "so safeties are a little more aggressive and getting to the running backs a little sooner than they did last year."

Finally, there have been a few occasions when the blockers got Riggs into the secondary but he simply couldn't make the last man miss.

"There's been a few times that's happened," Sanders conceded. "But we haven't played many bad defenses. UAB was a pretty good defensive team. Florida was a solid defensive team. LSU has tons of talent out there. Ole Miss returned nine starters from last year and gave us a lot of problems."

Sanders said throughout September that Tennessee was mere inches from breaking some big gainers. Now October's here, and he's saying the same thing.

"We're close," he said. "The lack of big plays and long runs is a concern but we've had a lot of plays that looked like they were getting ready to pop that just didn't quite pop. But I feel like they will come."

Ultimately, big plays just happen. When the call is right and the execution is right, an off-tackle play is just about as likely to produce a 50-yard touchdown as a double reverse. So, don't look for the Vols to try any double reverses anytime soon.

"We've just got to stay with what we're going," Sanders said. "The great thing offensively is that, other than the LSU game, we've had very few penalties. And we did a great job taking care of the ball last week, not putting the defense in any bad positions.

"If we keep trying to win these games as a team, the big plays will come."

With unbeatens Georgia and Alabama next on the schedule, they'd better come soon.

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