Creative offense?

Fans who complain that Tennessee's offense lacks imagination are wrong. The Vols found all sorts of creative ways to stop themselves in Saturday's 27-14 home-field loss to Georgia.

There were dropped passes. There was an end zone interception. There were two lost fumbles. There were several false starts. There was a costly chop-block penalty on third-and-one. There was a botched shotgun snap. There was a mysteriously inept ground game. These combined to keep Tennessee's offense stalling all day.

The 14 points the Big Orange scored are deceptive. They came on a one-yard drive following a 34-yard interception return by Jonathan Wade and a semi-meaningless 24-yard touchdown pass from Rick Clausen to Robert Meachem on the game's final play.

Tennessee finished with 358 yards of total offense but that total is deceptive, too. The Vols got 310 of that through the air and only 48 on the ground. And, truth be told, they got a good portion of their passing yards in the game's final 104 seconds, when Georgia was playing prevent defense.

Clausen, limited by a so-so arm and poor mobility on his good days, was further hampered on this day by an Achilles injury in his plant leg and a sore throwing shoulder. Still, he played every offensive down. Vol coaches declined to give any snaps to sophomore backup Erik Ainge, who has not played since the first half of Game 3 at LSU.

"I considered it," head coach Phillip Fulmer said following the game. "We didn't really talk about it, necessarily. Erik has had two really good weeks of practice, and he'll be fine. But Rick is our quarterback until we decide otherwise."

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders also defended Clausen, noting: "I thought he did a pretty good job. I'm not so sure the rest of the 11 guys played up to his level."

Overall, however, Sanders seemed understandably perturbed.

"When we have opportunities, you see the opportunities and we don't take advantage of the opportunities, it is frustrating," he said, subsequently adding: "We are our own worst enemy too often."

The coordinator didn't say it in so many words, but he hinted that he's especially unhappy with the receivers.

"Looking at the stats, we're 21 of 36 (passing) for 310 yards," he said. "If we catch a few more of ‘em, we may have a 370- or 380-yard night. And if you make some of those plays, it opens up the run game more."

Nothing opened up the run game on this day. The Vols rushed 26 times for just 48 yards. Gerald Riggs carried 19 times for 52 yards and Arian Foster twice for 14 but Clausen was sacked four times for 13 yards in losses and a botched shotgun snap lost another five yards.

How futile was Tennessee's offense? Consider the following:

On their second possession of the game, the Vols drove to a second-and-one at the Georgia 37-yard line. However, Riggs lost a yard on second down, Clausen threw incomplete on third down and the Vols wound up punting.

After moving to the UGA 15-yard line late in the first half, Clausen's pass to a wide-open Bret Smith bounced off his finger tips in the end zone. Georgia intercepted on the very next play to snuff the threat.

Tennessee's second possession of the third period included back-to-back false-start penalties against its best offensive lineman, tackle Arron Sears. The Vols overcame these and moved to a third-and-one at Georgia's 30-yard line, only to have an 11-yard run by Riggs nullified by a chop-block call against Rob Smith, Tennessee's second-best offensive lineman. On the very next play a 16-yard pass was dropped by Robert Meachem, Tennessee's best receiver, forcing a punt.

Down 20-7 with 8 minutes left, Tennessee's comeback hopes died when a botched shotgun snap on second-and-five caused a five-yard loss.

"Those are the things that are absolutely killing us right now," Sanders said. "That's what's making it hard on us."


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