Clutch plays needed

Tennessee's much-maligned wide receivers finally made some big plays in Game 5 against Georgia. Now they need to make some CLUTCH plays.

After recording just seven catches that gained 20 yards or more in the first four games, Vol wideouts caught six passes of 20 yards or more against the Dawgs. That's the good news. The bad news is that only one of these big plays contributed to a scoring drive as the Vols fell 27-14.

Still, UT receivers coach Pat Washington found it encouraging to see his troops register six big gainers.

"It sure was," he said. "We needed things like that to happen. That was a good improvement but now we need to put the ball in the end zone. Whether it's as an offense collectively driving or a receiver making a catch, making somebody miss and scoring, we just need to get in the end zone."

Washington said he has no explanation for how the Vols could post so few catches of 20 yards or more in Games 1 through 4 and six of them against a solid Georgia defense.

"Not really," he said. "We just connected on the plays we thought we had a chance to connect on. The previous games we just didn't connect for one reason or another."

Perhaps UT's wideouts can make more big plays in today's game at unbeaten and fifth-ranked Alabama.

"I hope so," Washington said. "We're going to take the positive and go with it. There's always some negative but I think the positive will cure the negative. We want to be positive and move on to the Alabama game."

So how do the Vols turn big plays into touchdowns?

"The opportunity's got to present itself," Washington said. "You can draw things up all day long but you've got to get the opportunity – a guy goes one-on-one, beats somebody and scores a touchdown. Alabama's a big zone team but they will play man some. If we have the right play called when they play man, hopefully, the guys will see it, seize the moment and take advantage of the opportunity."

Unfortunately for the Vols, they seem unable to "seize the moment" once they get to the opponent's 30-yard line. It's as if there's an invisible shield there that keeps them from finishing drives.

Washington concedes that this happened several times against Georgia.

"We got down there close, called a play that was an easy touchdown but the ball was overthrown," he recalled. "The very next play we throw an interception. You don't want to say you're snakebit because that sounds like an excuse but we're just not performing up to our potential when we get down there."

Washington isn't sure what the answer is but he knows what the answer is NOT. He's convinced the Vols do not need to overhaul their offense just because they're struggling to score points.

"We're working on it," he said. "But you can go overboard and try to create a whole bunch of new ideas, when the things you had were good. You don't want to get away from what the kids know how to do. Just because a tackle missed a block or a receiver didn't go deep enough or the quarterback overthrew a guy, you don't delete that play just because one little thing hurt it. You just fix that one little thing. That's our thinking.

"If you make wholesale changes, then you're going into a game with the kids doing things they're not used to doing, and they make a whole lot of mistakes."

Certainly, Tennessee's wideouts need to be close to mistake-free today because Alabama's secondary may be the finest in the Southeastern Conference.

"The key to their secondary is experience," Washington said. "They know their stuff inside-out, therefore there aren't many mistakes. A critical error in the secondary can cost you the game. If one guy isn't where he's supposed to be when he's supposed to be, it's a touchdown.

"I think that same secondary was 10th in the SEC when they were freshman. Now they're No. 1 as juniors and seniors."


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