Sorting Through the Rubble

First things first, and this may hurt some to read, Georgia beat Tennessee in every phase of the game — offense, defense and special teams — making this every bit as much a Bulldog victory as a Volunteer defeat.

Sure the Vols gave them plenty of help with turnovers and penalties, and they failed to make big plays when it counted most, but the credit must go to Georgia for being better prepared and out performing Tennessee on its home turf before any blame can be afixed to the Vols.

Was the two weeks to prepare a factor? How about the three games in 13 days that was so often discussed prior to and during the national broadcast?

Perhaps those conditions did help pave the way for the Georgia win, but again that diminishes what was an excellent performance by what appears to be a very good Bulldog squad.

Besides, two weeks to prepare didn't help Tennessee against Florida, and teams routinely play three games in 15 days. In fact, after the open date on Saturday, the Vols will play six games in 35 days. Plus, if fatigue was really an issue, why did Tennessee score 14 points in the second half after being shutout in the first half? Furthermore, UT's defense gave up 10 points in each half despite losing Jason Allen late in the first half and not having him for the second when UT should have been most vulnerable to fatigue.

There's a temptation to say UT's defense played well enough to win, but the job of the defense is to prevent an opponent from scoring more points and the Vols didn't do that against Georgia. Undoubtedly, the Vols' defense played better than their offense, but this was far from a good effort by John Chavis' unit which allowed 405 yards in total offense and 209 yards rushing. The Bulldogs 4.7 yard average gain per rush underscored problems not experienced by UT this season until Saturday. Plus, the Vols had only one sack for minus one yard.

Any discussion about what's wrong with UT's offense is going to include a couple of hot button issues. (1) play calling (2) play by the quarterback. Sure, it's easy to see an offense struggle and assume it's a matter of not calling the right plays or a failure by the quarterback to properly execute, but Tennessee's problems moving the ball and putting points on the board run much deeper.

UT favors a balanced offense that features multiple sets. It's designed to be flexible and take advantage of big play opportunities, but it's success is still dependent on the ability to run the football. Similarly, Rick Clausen, is an operator whose job is to manage the offense and get the ball to the playmakers in a position to make plays. He's not a gun slinger that will prevail in many shootouts, and he's not going to hurt many defenses with his mobility.

Clausen did a superb job running UT's offense when he took over as the starter last season for the injured Eric Ainge and Brent Schaeffer. The difference between last year and this fall is that the Vols ground game. In the four games Clausen started in 2004 against Vandy, Kentucky, Auburn and Texas A&M, UT gained 909 rushing yards in 156 carries. In the first five games of the 2005 campaign the Vols have rushed for 496 yards in 180 carries. Against Florida they were held to 68 yards in 37 carries, against LSU they had 70 yards in 34 carries and against Georgia they picked up 48 yards in 26 carries. In case you don't have a calculator handy that's 186 yards in 97 carries or less than two yards per run.

It's going to be difficult to beat any team with that type of production on the ground and, notwithstanding UT's dramatic comeback against LSU, a one-dimensional offense will rarely prevail against a quality opponent.

Obviously, UT's offensive line must come under scrutiny for its inability to open the holes needed to maintain a consistent ground attack. The irony is this was thought by many to be the Vols' best O-line in recent years. It's unquestionably the largest averaging in the imposing neighborhood of 330 pounds per player. It's also experienced with three seniors and two juniors starting against Georgia. The offensive line has a pedigree with three high school all-Americans in Rob Smith, Aaron Sears and Cody Douglas with three more AA O-linemen on the roster.

No starter has lost his job to this point. Neither have any individual players been identified as failing to grade out with winning marks. There have been injuries to deal with, but the Vols are healthier now in the O-line than they were at the end of last season when the offense was clicking and the ground game was in high gear.

So what's the problem?

Since the whole doesn't seem as great as the sum of it's parts, one can conclude UT's O-line isn't in sync. More than any other unit the offensive line has to work as one and right now UT's front five appears fragmented. While the problems vary and the missed assignments are a mixed bag, generally speaking, the line has lacked surge and has failed to crave out an running room.

Of course, there's more to having an effective ground game than the offensive line. You need receivers that can beat man coverage consistently in order to force some double coverage in the secondary, preventing the defense from stacking the interior. Georgia safety Greg Blue virtually ignored the pass and recorded 13 solo tackles against the Vols.

It's also hard to run without favorable field position and UT started three possession inside its own 8 yard-line against Georgia. Tennessee's average drive started at its own 22 yard-line and that's with the one offensive series the Vols began at the Georgia's 1, following Jonathan Wade's INT.

Finally, it's easier to run with the lead than without it which, at least partially, explains UT's paltry ground totals against Florida, LSU and Georgia. You see in 180 minutes of regulation play against these three SEC foes, Tennessee never once had the lead, not even for a second.

That provides some light on why Tennessee is fourth in the SEC East when many picked the Vols to finish higher nationally.

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