"It's tougher to score points when you're not getting big chunks of yards," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said this week. "We had 12 explosives in the Southern Mississippi game, and I think eight of them were from the run game. At Florida we only ended up with six explosives, and that's not enough against a team like Florida."
Lacking a home-run threat in the Donte' Sallworth/Robert Meachem mold, Tennessee is not a particularly explosive offense this season. Instead, the Vols tend to nickel and dime their way downfield – picking up 4, 5, 6, 7 yards at a clip – in their quest for the end zone. Most opponents are willing to concede these short gains, figuring a turnover or penalty will stop the Vols somewhere along the way.
"A lot of defensive people – and they're right – note that offenses can't carry the ball 15 or 16 plays 70 yards and score very often," Cutcliffe said. "You need that help from the big play. For various reasons we haven't been able to do that."
When Tennessee pops a big play, the Vols almost invariably make their way into the end zone. Consider:
GAME 1: A 27-yard strike from Erik Ainge to Chris Brown was followed four plays later by a touchdown. A 66-yard kickoff return by Arian Foster led to a five-play TD drive. A 45-yard pass to Lucas Taylor set up the third touchdown. A 23-yard pass to Taylor kick-started the fourth TD drive. A 22-yard pass to Josh Briscoe led to a field goal. In short, Tennessee had one gain of at least 20 yards on each of its five scoring drives vs. Cal.
Game 2: Taylor had a 27-yard catch and Austin Rogers a 26-yarder on the Vols' first TD drive vs. Southern Miss. Taylor had a 32-yard grab and Rogers a 24-yarder en route to the Vols' second TD. A 21-yard run by Foster fueled the march to a field goal. A 35-yard pass to Taylor was followed one play later by Tennessee's third TD. A 16-yard run by Foster set up the Vols' fourth TD. Bottom line: Thirty-one of UT's 39 points were set up by big plays.
Game 3: A 20-yard pass to Brown opened Tennessee's first TD drive at Florida. The Vols' only other points came on a 96-yard interception return and a pair of field-goal drives.
Clearly, when Tennessee pops a big play it is likely to score. When an opponent takes away the big play – as Florida did – Tennessee is a longshot to score.
It's all about explosives and expletives.