Frustrating day for Cutcliffe

Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe had his worst day of the season in a 31-14 loss Saturday at Arkansas. He couldn't find a rhythm with a young quarterback. He couldn't find consistency in the passing game or the running game.

And the results were obvious. The Vols had a season-high eight punts on 13 possessions, two of which came at the end of each half. They had less than 200 total yards until the final three minutes. The SEC's second-best third-down offense (52.3 percent) converted only four of 13 third-downs.

Redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes for the second consecutive game, hitting 16 of 34 for 174 yards with three drops. He clearly is not as accurate as the injured Erik Ainge.

``I take responsibility for not getting us in a rhythm,'' Crompton said.

The run game was actually improved. LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty had 103 yards on 21 attempts. That's considerably better than the 58.8 rushing yards UT averaged in its first five SEC games.

``LaMarcus gave us a speed dynamic,'' Fulmer said. ``It was good to get him back.''

The net rushing was 92 yards, thanks to a season-high four sacks. Tennessee had been allowing one sack per 32 pass attempts. They gave up one per 9.5 pass attempts against Arkansas as Crompton, rolling out of the pocket, rolled right into defensive end Jamaal Anderson for two of his three sacks.

Meanwhile, UT's defense recorded no sacks. For the season, the Vols have 16 sacks - eight by defensive linemen -- to rank 10th in the SEC. It's on pace to be the worst sack total in John Chavis' 12 seasons as defensive coordinator.

This is also the worst run defense (148.7) Chavis has put on the field. The 2002 Vols surrendered 138.3. In 1994, the year before Chavis took over, UT gave up 147.9 per game. In 1990, UT allowed 171.2.

In the last three games, Tennessee has allowed 655 rushing yards, almost 220 per game.

The Vols miss defensive tackle Justin Harrell more than I initially anticipated, just as Florida misses defensive tackle Marcus Thomas. With Thomas out, Florida's once dominant run defense hasn't been so tough, with South Carolina and Vanderbilt chalking up good numbers.

Tennessee's run defense wasn't as good as Florida's, but it certainly has regressed without having a potentially dominant player like Harrell.

Chavis has been good at making halftime adjustments but the first-half changes have been slow in coming. Perhaps that's because of youth. It's easier to make in-game alterations with a veteran team. It's harder when the majority of your players are first-year starters.

It's also clear that Tennessee is vulnerable against a mobile quarterback. South Carolina's Syvelle Newton and LSU's JaMarcus Russell led their respective teams in rushing against UT. McFadden had a field day when lined up at quarterback.

That spells trouble against Vanderbilt and its mobile quarterback Chris Nickson. He helped the Commodores rack up over 600 total yards against Kentucky. Yes, I know it's Kentucky, but that's still a terrific day at the office for any offense.

NATION'S BEST 1-2 PUNCH

McFadden and Felix Jones entered the game as the nation's top 1-2 running back combination at 194.7 yards per game. The combined for 253 against Tennessee, brining their combined average to 200.5 yards per game.

McFadden's performance against Tennessee should vault him into the Heisman Trophy conversation. And why not?

He's arguably the best running back in the country. He's averaging 121.9 yards per game in the best defensive conference in the nation. He's playing some quarterback in the shotgun and has been very effective: 23 plays for 231 yards and at least four touchdowns.

THE MOST OVERRATED STAT?

Time of possession is the most overrated stat in football.

For example, entering the UT game, Arkansas was last in the SEC and 109th in the country in time of possession, but ranked fourth in the nation in rushing and was 8-1. Opponents were keeping the ball 4:12 more game.

Alabama was first in the SEC in time of possession. Kentucky was fifth. Before the UT game, LSU was seventh.

Air Force had the ball for 38:35 and lost to Notre Dame 39-17.

But like anything, there are exceptions. It was Saturday night, when Arkansas hogged the ball for 32 minutes. It was the week before when LSU had the ball for 41 minutes and wore out UT's defense.

BOWL PROJECTIONS

Here are my projections for SEC teams in bowl games:

BCS national title game: Florida v. Ohio State.

Sugar Bowl: LSU

Capitol One: Auburn

Cotton: Arkansas

Outback: Tennessee

Peach: Kentucky

Music City: Georgia

Liberty: South Carolina

Independence: Alabama


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