Offense Fails to Convert

Whether Tennessee has really hit rock bottom or is merely passing through one of the nine stages of Hell is a matter of metaphorical conjecture — clearly, the Vols are through the looking glass and lost in Blunder Land.

Losing to Vanderbilt sets all convention on its ear and leaves the Vols staggering on what author Norman Mailer called "queer street" — a reference to boxers that have been separated from their senses and don't know where they are.

The only unit that performed worst than Tennessee's offense on Saturday was the officiating crew, which alternated from outright blindness to hallucination.

Prognosis for the season finale at Kentucky is negative.

Here's the top to bottom offensive ratings for the Tennessee-Vanderbilt game. Grades of 90-100 are regarded as championship quality. Grades of 80-89 equate to top 25 worthy, grades of 70-79 are average marks. Grades of 60-69 are passing but problematical and won't be good enough to defeat a quality opponent. Any grade below 60 is considered failing. We have broken down the units this week to offense and defense. Special teams are also included in the defensive grades.

RUNNING BACKS (94) The evolution of Arian Foster continues as the freshman tailback became only the tenth Tennessee back to break the 200-yard barrier with a 223-yard performance that also ranks as UT's tenth best all time. His 40 carries was also one short of the most attempts by a UT back in a single game, and his 66-yard run in the first half was the longest play from scrimmage the Vols have had this season. Foster shows the vision, skills, balance and stamina to become an outstanding feature back, and his best days are still ahead of him. Coincidentally, Foster also led Tennessee in receiving with four catches for 46 yards. He was spelled briefly by fullback Cory Anderson who gained 11 yards in three carries. The senior and Knoxville native also had one of his better games as lead blocker.

OFFENSIVE LINE (87) The offensive line did a good job of opening holes and staying with its blocks, allowing Foster to skate along the line and find openings to dart through. Vanderbilt only sacked Rick Clausen once for a two-yard loss and was credited with only one hurry in the game. However, Tennessee's failure to pick up a fourth-and-one at the Vanderbilt 3 in the second quarter cost the Vols a chance to tie the game and proved critical to the outcome. UT also failed to pick up a first down in its last two possessions when only one would have sealed the deal. Admittedly, Tennessee took a very conservative approach when Vandy was clearly overplaying the inside run. Overall it was one of the O-line's best efforts this season although Vanderbilt's defense was far from stellar.

QUARTERBACK (54) This is a tough one because the play of the wide receivers contributed mightily to Rick Clausen's struggles (11-of-25 for 123 yards two INTs and on TD). He did make his best deep throw of the season, but Robert Meachem couldn't come up with the catch which would have given UT a TD. Likewise, his first INT deflected off the shoulder pads of Chris Hannon, who stumbled coming out of his cut and apparently didn't see the pass. Clausen's last interception came on the final play of the game when he was under pressure and trying to get of the pass. However he misfired on both throws that preceded that pick when a completion would have won the game. In fairness the receivers weren't really open and Clausen may have forced the ball. One of the worst decisions made by the fifth-year senior was on a third down and six with the Vols near midfield as he launched a low percentage pass to a well covered receiver hugging the sideline when he could have run for the first and kept the drive alive. Clausen also overthrew a fade route to an open Jayson Swain that would have been a touchdown. The Vols settled for a field goal when a TD would have given them a seven-point cushion in the fourth quarter.

RECEIVERS (50) Tennessee's wideouts were largely ineffective finishing with only four catches for 55 yards. Swain led the pack with four catches for 50 yards, including a 31-yard catch on the Vols final drive on the game. Hannon had one catch for a five-yard score. Robert Meachem, Bret Smith, C.J. Fayton and Josh Briscoe were all shutout. The performance by UT's veteran receiver corps contrasted greatly with Vandy freshman wideout Earl Bennett who hauled in 14 passes for 167 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Another disappointing game from an underachieving group of former high school All-Americans.

OVERALL (77) The best ground game of the season was offset by very poor production through the air by a UT offense that has failed to put together a complete game this season. The Vols were also plagued by a couple of costly penalties and once again couldn't come up with plays to keep drives going. Tennessee made only 4 of 15 third down conversions and was 1 of 3 on fourth down. That type of play calling and execution against one the weakest defenses in the SEC is simply inexcusable. The 24 points was the third best point production this season for Tennessee, but it came in a home game against a team that had lost six straight and gave up 48 points to Kentucky the week before. David Cutcliffe and Jonathan Crompton can't get on the job soon enough.

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