Backs to the wall

With Tennessee struggling to score points this season, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders has his back to the wall. Quarterback Rick Clausen knows the feeling. He spent much of Saturday's 27-14 loss to Georgia with his back to the wall (i.e. – backed up near his own goal line).

Five times UT was forced to begin a possession inside its 10-yard line. Here's a recap:

After Georgia took a 7-0 lead, a holding call on the ensuing kickoff forced Tennessee to open at its 6-yard line. The Vols picked up one first down before punting.

Moments later a Georgia punt was downed at the Vol 2-yard line. After three plays failed to gain a yard, Tennessee punted.

An illegal-block-in-the-back penalty on a punt return forced Tennessee to start its final drive of the first half at its 8-yard line. The Vols picked up one first down, then coughed up a fumble that Georgia parlayed into an 18-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead.

Another illegal-block-in-the-back call forced Tennessee to start its second possession of the second half at its 7-yard line. The Vols picked up two first downs before stalling.

Another Georgia punt was downed at the Vol 1-yard line with 10 minutes remaining in the game. Tennessee ran three plays, then punted to UGA's Thomas Flowers, who returned it 54 yards for the game-clinching TD.

All told, Tennessee started five of its 13 possessions at least 92 yards from paydirt. That's a tall order for a good offense; it's Mission Impossible for an offense struggling the way Tennessee's is.

"It really limited us," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said.

Three of UT's back-to-the-wall possessions occurred in the second quarter, killing the momentum the Vols had established in the first period.

Tennessee's first snap of the game saw Rick Clausen hit Bret Smith with a 33-yard pass. That drive ultimately stalled but Clausen opened UT's second possession with a 25-yard strike to Chris Hannon. That drive also petered out.

"I felt like one of the things we did well the first half was the first play of our possessions we came out and hit a good play," Sanders said. "The first play of the game we hit a crossing route (to Smith) for a big play. The next possession we had a really good first play (to Hannon). It seemed like we had some good things planned for those (first-down) situations."

Alas, the Vols' final four possessions of the first half began at their 6-yard line, their 2, their 26 and their 8. The free-wheeling plays that characterized drives 1 and 2 were scrapped at this point.

"When you get it backed up inside your 10," Sanders noted, "a lot of times those things are left on the sideline until you get it out on the field a little bit more."

After Georgia kicked a field goal to go up 13-0 in the third period, Tennessee desperately needed to answer. Yet another illegal block on the ensuing kickoff forced the Vols to start at their 7-yard line, however.

Down 13-7 in the fourth quarter, Tennessee still had a chance to win. A Bulldog punt was downed on the 1-yard line, however, and the Vols' subsequent punt was run back for a game-sealing TD.

"Field position was huge, no doubt," Sanders said. "It seemed like we were backed up a lot. When you get backed up on your one-yard line, it's tough."

The widespread perception is that Tennessee becomes ultra-conservative in these situations. Actually, that wasn't the case vs. Georgia. Tennessee attempted five passes inside its 10-yard line, completing three for an average gain of 17 yards. Here's a recap of them:

First-and-10 from its 2: Incomplete pass

Third-and-10 from its 2: Incomplete bomb for Chris Hannon

First-and-10 from its 8: Complete to Bret Smith for 20 yards

First-and-10 from its 7: Complete to Jayson Swain for 28 yards

Third-and-6 from its 5: Complete to Swain for 3 yards

For what it's worth, Sanders called one more pass play inside the Vol 10 but Clausen checked off to a run.

Even in this high-scoring modern age, field position can be a defensive coordinator's best friend … and an offensive coordinator's worst enemy. Or vice-versa.

With a defensive-minded Alabama team next on Tennessee's schedule, field position figures to be crucial again. If the Vols start five drives inside their 10-yard line, they're probably doomed to another fruitless offensive showing and another lackluster loss.

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