Second-down blues

Tennessee's first series against UCLA established a frustrating pattern that would recur throughout the opening game.

A screen pass to Arian Foster gained nine yards, only to have an incompletion on second-and-one and a fumbled snap on third-and-one doom the possession.

Tennessee's second possession was more of the same. After a seven-yard first-down completion carried to the Bruin 31-yard line, Foster lost three yards on a running play and a third-down pass fell incomplete. Daniel Lincoln then missed a 51-yard field goal.

The trend continued in the second half. A six-yard first-down run by Montario Hardesty was followed by two incompletions and a punt.

A nice gain on first down is supposed to provide a huge lift but that rarely proved to be the case for Tennessee in its Game 1 loss.

"I think the shame of it is we had some very productive first downs," first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. "We gave ourselves a second and 1, a second and 3. We had a lot of second and very manageable downs that we turned into third and unmanageable."

Thanks largely to ill-fated second-and-short plays, Tennessee had three-and-outs on three of its first four possessions vs. UCLA. Counting a missed field goal in overtime, the Vols finished the evening with nine three-and-outs. Clawson says that's unacceptable.

"The two things that really stick out to me about the game, other than the turnover (a fumble at the UCLA 6-yard line), was the amount of three-and-outs and our poor third-down conversions, which was a result of bad second down plays.

"When you have second and short, then you have a negative-yardage play and put yourself in third and long, that's really where I thought our biggest breakdowns in the game occurred.

"Usually you talk about your inability to get yards on first down. We were a very effective first-down offense. We had some major breakdowns on second down which put us in some tough third downs."

So, why did Tennessee struggle so much in second-and-short situations?

"We didn't execute well," Clawson said. "I know that's coach-speak, but it's also accurate. We turned some guys (pass rushers) loose at critical times. We had some protection breakdowns ... things that hadn't showed up in camp. They happened in places that through camp we'd been very consistent and very good at."

Several plays that worked well in preseason scrimmages against Tennessee's defense did not work at all in the opener against UCLA's defense. This took Clawson by surprise.

"You try to call plays that you've had success with throughout your camp, that you feel the players can successfully execute," he said. "We had some things pop up that we didn't execute that we'd been really good at. Whether that was Game 1 jitters or whatever, obviously there's some problems that popped up that we've got to fix."

Because Clawson's West Coast scheme represents quite a departure from the system utilized by predecessor David Cutcliffe, it was suggested that installing the new scheme might have cut into the time available to work on fundamentals. Clawson insists that wasn't the case at all.

"We drilled the fundamentals," he said. "Any time you have a new system there's going to be growing pains. I said all along there's going to be some bumps in the road; I just hope those bumps don't end up costing us a football game. To some degree certainly we contributed to the loss (due to) the amount of three-and-outs and not capitalizing on good field position."

Clawson is hoping to see his offense bounce back with a strong showing this Saturday in the home opener against UAB. The best thing he can find to say about Game 1 is that it is over.

"That's one of those games that you can go back and identify 15 different plays that changed the outcome of the game," Clawson said. "Certainly, we had our share of them on offense. Whether that's a new system or breakdowns, it doesn't matter.

"There's no excuse for it and it's got to get better, and we're working hard to correct it."


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