Singing the third-down blues

Allowing an opponent to convert on third-and-long is a lot like giving up a home run on an 0-and-2 count in baseball. You had your opponent right where you wanted him, then you screwed up.

Tennessee's defense was awful when it had Rutgers in third-and-long situations Saturday night, as the following recap illustrates:

* Third and 9: completed pass, 13 yards, first down
* Third and 17: draw play, 21 yards, first down
* Third and 10: draw play, 11 yards, first down
* Third and 10: scramble, 2 yards, first down
* Third and 12: dropped pass (would've gained 12 yards)
* Third and 16: fumble, 2-yard gain
* Third and 11: pass interference, automatic first down

''We really had down-and-distance in our favor,'' head coach Phillip Fulmer said. ''I think there were 11 times they gained less than three yards on first down and they only had two third-and-shorts for the entire game. We have an opportunity to build and improve on third down because that's basically how they kept their drives alive.''

After failing on its first two third-down tries, Rutgers converted seven of the next eight and went to halftime seven of 10.

''They spread us out — which we didn't expect — and got some mismatches,'' defensive coordinator John Chavis said. ''We've been a pretty good third-down defense all year but we weren't in the first half.''

The Vols were an excellent third-down defense in the second half, however, limiting the Scarlet Knights to zero conversions in eight attempts in the third and fourth quarters.

''Third down is the money down, and that's when you've got to make stops,'' Chavis said. ''They (Scarlet Knights) made the plays in the first half and we made them in the second half.''

What made the difference?

''Our kids settled in,'' Chavis explained, ''and we mixed in a little bit more zone.''

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