How much offense does UT need?

The SEC is such a defensive league, you can't base national rankings on how efficient an offense is or isn't. But some numbers are undeniable. And anyway you cut it, Tennessee's offense was pitiful last season – in league play and out of league play.

For the record, the Vols were 101st last season in scoring offense, 90th in total offense, 85th in passing offense and 80th in rushing offense. That's bad.

The more important numbers are how you're doing against your league competition. Tennessee was 10th in scoring, eighth in total offense, and ninth in rushing and passing. That stinks.

David Cutcliffe has been hired to fix Tennessee's offense, fix those awful numbers. But don't expect a return to the glory days of Peyton Manning, when Tennessee was averaging over 450 yards and 35 points per game. Those stats are unattainable by Tennessee this season. They've been out of reach for most of this decade.

Cutcliffe's goal isn't to make Tennessee one of the top 20 offenses in the nation. His goal isn't nearly that ambitious. His goal is to make the Vols one of the top five offensive teams in the SEC, to make them one of the top 50 offenses in the nation.

What, you say? Not good enough?

Actually, it should be good enough to help Tennessee win nine games. It should be good enough to make the Vols a contender in the East Division.

You don't have to have a great offense to win the SEC, just an efficient one.

Georgia won the SEC last year. You know where the Bulldogs ranked nationally in scoring, total yards, rushing or passing? No higher than 42nd in any of those categories.

But the Bulldogs did finish in the top three in the SEC in each of those areas.

That's what's important – how you stack up against your league competition.

You know where Tennessee's offense ranked nationally when the Vols won the 1998 national championship? Not in the top 30.

If you're still not convinced you don't have to be a scoring machine to win big in the SEC, consider these numbers: Last year on defense, the SEC had six teams that ranked in the top 25 in scoring defense and total yards allowed, and fives teams in the top 25 in rushing and passing defense.

Conversely, the SEC scoring leader last year ranked 30th nationally, with the second-place team in the league at No. 42 in the country. The top two rushing teams in the SEC were 12th and 25th nationally. The top two passing teams were 19th and 49th. And the top two total offense teams were 37th and 46th.

You might argue that the SEC is more than just a defensive league, it's a weak offensive league. There may be some merit to that argument, but you can't dismiss that in bowl games last year, the SEC averaged 26.7 points with four of six teams scoring more than 30 points against – for the most part - quality opposition.

So what numbers would be considered good enough for Tennessee to earn its way back into the top 25? Here's the breakdown of the four major offensive yardsticks.

Scoring: 28 points per game. If UT had scored 28 points in each game last season, the Vols would have been 9-2 or 10-1. If UT had averaged 28 points last season, the Vols would have ranked fifth in the SEC. Only four UT opponents appear capable of scoring 28 points: California, Florida, LSU and South Carolina.

Total offense: 375 yards. That doesn't sound like much, but it would have ranked fourth in the SEC last year. It would be about 50 more yards per game than a year ago. It would help the Vols generate two or three more first downs per game, thus eating up more clock, and, thus, keeping the defense off the field one or two series per game. In a season that figures to produce a lot of close calls, a few more first downs could make a huge difference.

Rushing yards: 155. That would be only 28 more yards per game, but it would have ranked fourth in the SEC last year. It would mean the Vols are taking some heat off quarterback Erik Ainge. It likely would mean UT is doing better in short-yardage situations. For a team that has averaged 200 rushing yards just once since 1995, a goal of 155 is reasonable – considering UT has done so just twice since 1999.

Passing yards: 220. Ainge won't be asked to win games, just help win games. He'll be asked to make the right reads and the right decisions and the right throws. He'll be asked to get the ball to potential playmakers and find secondary receivers. He won't be asked to pass for 300 yards per game. He won't even have to throw for 250 – unless the run game struggles or the defense can't stop anybody.

If Tennessee can achieve those numbers on offense, it will achieve a top-25 ranking. And Phillip Fulmer will be back in good graces with a grumbling fan base.


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