Fulmer's looking for more big plays

Texas and Southern Cal had the most potent offenses in college football last fall … mostly because the Longhorns and Trojans had the most potent offensive weapons.

Texas quarterback Vince Young was a big play waiting to happen. So were USC tailback Reggie Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart. Those guys were capable of breaking a game-changing 40-yard run or completing a tide-turning 40-yard pass at any time.

While the Longhorns and Trojans were getting fat on big plays in 2005, however, Tennessee was starving. The Vols recorded just two runs of 30 yards or more all season – a 43-yarder by Arian Foster vs. Notre Dame and a 66-yarder by Foster vs. Vanderbilt.

The aerial attack wasn't exactly electrifying, either. After completing two passes of 30 yards or more in the opener vs. UAB, Tennessee recorded just four in the next nine games. The passing game finally snapped out of its doldrums in Game 11 against hapless Kentucky, producing completions of 50, 32 and 39 yards.

With big plays in short supply last fall, Tennessee relied heavily on drives featuring an assortment of short gains. And, as fans no doubt recall, the Vols simply weren't efficient enough to go 75 yards in 12 plays very often. That's why they averaged a paltry 18.6 points per game.

With Foster back for his sophomore year – joined by Montario Hardesty and LaMarcus Coker – Tennessee should make considerably more big plays in the ground game this fall. And, based on his performance in the Orange & White Game (TD catches of 70 and 27 yards), Robert Meachem may be poised to become the big-play receiver the Vols have been lacking since Peerless Price moved on eight years ago.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer certainly hopes there are some big plays in UT's future. He knows the odds are against his team managing to nickel and dime its way downfield very often in 2006.

"We've got to find a way to make some plays," Fulmer said recently. "It's very difficult in this day and age to take the ball 13 plays and not make a mistake somewhere along the way, as aggressive as the defenses are."

With tailbacks Foster, Hardesty and Coker sidelined by injuries, most of Tennessee's big plays in spring scrimmages came via the pass. That doesn't mean the Vols will be a pass-oriented team in 2006, however.

"I'm not sure we've 100 percent found our personality just yet offensively, as to what we are and what we're going to do," Fulmer said.

As a former offensive lineman known for "pounding the rock," Fulmer is viewed by many as a conservative coach who would never pass the ball if he didn't have to. The Vol boss says that perception is off the mark. He insists he won't mind if the 2006 Vols throw the ball 50 times per game.

"I don't care," he said. "I just want to score more points than the other people. However we can do that, that's what we're going to do."

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