Analyzing the Vol offense

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders had no ready explanation for the fact Tennessee's line was guilty of three holding penalties, a personal foul and two false starts in Game 2 vs. Middle Tennessee State. His eyes were focused elsewhere.

''Actually, I'm watching the secondary most of the time,'' he said, grinning as he added: ''So, when somebody says there's a flag down, I usually just start cussing at that point.''

Head coach Phillip Fulmer also tried to put a positive spin on the sloppy line play in Game 2.

''I'm concerned about the penalties,'' he said. ''Most of them were aggressive penalties. That's something we can go to work on. But we got a win and didn't play our best ball game offensively."

Quarterback Casey Clausen offered more of the same.

''We moved the ball pretty well; we just didn't get the ball in the end zone,'' he said. ''When they packed it in, we went outside (to the passing game) and didn't win a whole lot of times. Also, the penalties moved us back on three or four drives. We just didn't make very many plays.''

That's odd, because the Vols have plenty of potential play-makers.

Cedric Houston has emerged as a budding star at tailback, averaging 90 yards per game and 7.8 yards per carry. His three touchdowns have covered 28, 46 and 15 yards. Fullback Troy Fleming has gained just two yards on two carries but has caught four passes for 34 yards.

Tony Brown has established himself as the go-to receiver during Kelley Washington's absence, averaging 7.5 receptions and 76 receiving yards per game. Yet, his per-catch average of 10.1 yards trails six other Vols, including tight end Jason Witten (11.9).

The wild card in the passing game could be tailback/wideout Derrick Tinsley, who leads the team with a 14.5 yards-per-catch average. Montrell Jones (6 catches for 64 yards), Jomo Fagan (2 catches for 28 yards) and C.J. Fayton (2 catches for 26 yards) also loom as key men in the receiving corps.

With Donte' Stallworth gone to the NFL, Washington is UT's only bona fide deep threat. That problem could be solved with rapid progress from speedy freshmen Chris Hannon (2 catches, 26 yards) and Jonathan Wade (no catches due to a shoulder problem).

Although he lost an interception and a fumble in Game 2 vs. Middle Tennessee State, Clausen ranks with the best QBs in college football. His two-game stats include an eye-popping 74.2 completion percentage (46 of 62) for 501 yards. His passing efficiency rating is an impressive 146.26 and he's averaging 3.5 yards per carry (11 rushes for 38 yards).

As a team, Tennessee averages 433.5 yards of total offense per game (162.5 rushing, 271 passing). The Vols are 13 of 29 on third-down conversions and 2 of 2 on fourth-down tries. They have surrendered two fumbles and two interceptions. After incurring just three penalties in the opener vs. Wyoming, however, the Big Orange offense was flagged six times vs. MTSU.

The anticipated return of Washington -- along with continued progress by Houston, Jabari Davis, Tinsley, Brown, Jones, Fayton and Fagan -- should have Tennessee's offense clicking by midseason. Although the attack unit isn't as far along as he'd like, Sanders believes it is pretty much on schedule.

''I think for the most part we've played pretty well,'' he said. ''The turnovers killed us and the penalties stopped us a number of times. We'll go back to work to eliminate the turnovers and eliminate the penalties. I kind of like where we are.''


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