Sometimes a genius

Calling the plays for a major college football program is an interesting job. You get to be the village idiot one week and the resident genius the next.

Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who handles the play-calling duties for Tennessee, understands this. He knows fans toast him when his calls work and roast him when they don't. They were toasting him after last Saturday's 35-14 pasting of No. 12 Georgia but Cutcliffe declined to toast himself.

"I don't beat myself up," he said this week, "and I'm certainly not in the habit of patting myself on the back because what goes around comes around. It's all a cycle, and you just hope you get players in position to make plays."

It's no secret that the best call can fail if the execution is bad and it's no secret that the worst call can succeed if the execution is good. That's why Cutcliffe figures calling the plays is more of a crap shoot than an exact science.

"Most of the time good play calls are made by good players. They make' em good plays," he said, adding that play-calling is "probably way overrated.... Every now and then you get lucky and maybe pick the right time to do something."

Usually, the success of a play depends more on the athletic brilliance of the player than the strategic brilliance of the call. That's why the Vol staff is always looking to get the ball in the hands of its playmakers.

"You have to think players, not plays," Cutcliffe said. "We do try to pay attention to who's getting the touches, where the production's coming from and where it may need to come from."

Some fans grumble that Tennessee's offense needs fresh ideas. They say the Vols have been doing the same things for too long and need to add a few new wrinkles.

"We always have wrinkles but sometimes people don't see wrinkles," Cutcliffe said. "Wrinkles may be a formation that's into the boundary or one player's in a different spot than where he normally is. Sometimes trick plays don't even look like trick plays."

Tennessee dusted off a trick play last weekend against Georgia – Lucas Taylor hitting LaMarcus Coker with a 56-yard throwback pass off an end-around play. Incredibly, that was the Vols' only TD throw of the game. Erik Ainge completed 17 of 22 passes but finished with a season-low 165 yards and zero TDs.

The fact Tennessee could score five touchdowns without a big day statistically from its senior quarterback suggests the Vols are developing balance. Perhaps they are no longer overly reliant on Ainge.

"Erik, in my mind, played his best game and managed the game extremely well," Cutcliffe noted. "That probably surprises some people but he certainly was more of a complete quarterback. That really thrilled me to see him play that way.

"He's very capable of putting up big numbers. Hopefully, there will be days when we can do that. There will be days when we may HAVE to do that. But we certainly like the balance. I think when you have balance you're more difficult to defend."

Counting Taylor's toss to Coker, Tennessee finished the Georgia game with 221 passing yards and 190 rushing yards – by far the best balance the Vols have exhibited all fall. Everything Cutcliffe called seemed to work last Saturday.

"We're trying to get good players in space," he said. "That's a big part of having a chance to be successful. It's the same thing everybody's trying to do right now – get your playmakers in space and, hopefully, they'll make some plays for you.

"I thought our guys played really well. We've had some other games where it all kind of came together – the Cal game at the start of 2006 – but we played well. It's certainly something to build off of."


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