Third-and-short killing UT

Tennessee's coaches say the key to offensive productivity is maintaining favorable down-and-distance situations. The conversion numbers from their first three games say otherwise.

Four times in Saturday's 59-20 loss at Florida the Vols faced favorable third-down situations of three yards or less. They converted just once ... and that came against Gator reserves long after the outcome was sealed.

The failures, meanwhile, were killers. Consider:

Down 7-0, the Vols appeared to be driving for the tying score on their second possession of the game. On third-and-two at Florida's 18-yard line, however, Arian Foster was stopped after a gain of one yard. Tennessee converted on fourth-and-one but Erik Ainge threw an interception two plays later, and the Vols came away with nothing.

On the third possession Tennessee again appeared to be driving for a tying touchdown. On third-and-one at the Florida 42, however, Foster was stuffed for no gain, then Tennessee punted into the end zone. Again, no points.

On their fourth possession, the Vols once more appeared to be headed for the tying score. On third-and-one at the Gator 12-yard line, however, Ainge threw an incompletion and Tennessee settled for a Daniel Lincoln field goal.

To recap: The Vols made three forays into Gator territory and failed on three third-and-short tries. Instead of three touchdowns, UT came away with three points. Three snaps later, Florida led 14-3.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer said on his Sunday teleconference that "Offensively, there were a lot of poor plays that hurt us, particularly on third down.... We got our butts whipped at the line of scrimmage. The execution wasn't nearly what it needed to be."

For what it's worth, Tennessee proved surprisingly capable in third-and-long situations Saturday at The Swamp. Here's a look at the Vols' first-half opportunities:

Third-and-7: Ainge hits Lucas Taylor for 11 yards and a first down.

Third-and-10: Ainge hits Josh Briscoe for 6 yards, then hits Taylor for 12 on fourth-and-4, giving Tennessee a first down that eventually produces a field goal.

Third-and-15: Ainge hits Chris Brown for 5 yards, then UT punts.

Third-and-10: Ainge hits Briscoe for 10 yards and a first down.

Third-and-10: Ainge hits Brown for a 15-yard touchdown.

Bottom line: The first half saw Tennessee go three for five on third-down conversions of 7 yards or more (a 60-percent success rate) but zero for three on attempts of 2 yards or less. That was a major reason the Vols went to the break trailing 28-13.

Despite the halftime deficit, Fulmer was somewhat pleased.

"Everybody was excited," he said on his post-game show. "Defensively, we'd only played 24 plays in the first half. Offensively, we'd played 47. So, even though we hadn't gotten the points we wanted, we were keeping it away from them (Gators) pretty good."

Unfortunately for Tennessee, the winner is the team with the most points, not the team with the most snaps. It's awfully tough to score points when you can't pick up third-and-short on a consistent basis, and that has been an ongoing problem for the 2007 Vols. They are just 6 for 16 this fall on conversion tries of three yards or less.

That figure is even more disturbing when you consider that Tennessee converted on its first two third-and-short opportunities of the season, then went just 3 for 10 in the final three quarters of Game 1 vs. Cal and all of Game 2 vs. Southern Miss.

Here's a recap:

Third-and-3: Ainge hits Taylor for 4 yards.

Third-and-2: Ainge hits Austin Rogers for 11 yards.

Third-and-2: Ainge pass to Foster loses 2 yards.

Third-and-3: Ainge throws incomplete after completing his first nine passes.

Third-and-2: Ainge fumbles, resulting in a six-yard loss.

Third-and-goal at Cal 2-yard line: Lucas Taylor keeps for no gain.

Third-and-3: Jonathan Crompton keeper loses a yard vs. Southern Miss.

Third-and-2: Ainge throws incomplete.

Third-and-1: Foster gains 1 yard and a first down.

Third-and-3: Ainge pass to Briscoe gains 2 yards.

Third-and-1: Coker runs for a 2-yard gain.

Third-and-1: Lennon Creer gains 5 yards.

Three games into the 2007 season, Tennessee has a 1-2 record but time to recover. After all, it's a long season. If the Vols don't find a way to start converting on third-and-short, however, it could seem like a REALLY long season.


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