Vol offense shows some life

Tennessee's offense finally showed up Saturday at Neyland Stadium but some 20,000 fans never did.

Playing before an announced crowd of 98,205 that probably was closer to 85,000, the Vols rode a quality defensive effort and a so-so offensive performance to a 35-3 defeat of UAB in the home opener.

Coming off a putrid performance in a 27-24 Game 1 loss at UCLA, Tennessee's attack showed at least a few signs of life. For instance:

The Vols exhibited great balance – 276 rushing yards and 282 passing yards.

They got terrific production from tailbacks Arian Foster (100 yards on 12 carries), Lennon Creer (93 yards on 8 carries), Montario Hardesty (43 yards on 9 carries) and freshman Tauren Poole (28 yards on 7 carries) without a single fumble.

Jonathan Crompton matched his Game 1 completion total (19) despite making 10 fewer throws (31) than in the opener. The strong-armed junior finished with 240 passing yards, while backup Nick Stephens was 1 of 2 for 42 yards in late-game mop-up duty.

Lucas Taylor flashed the form that made him a 1,000-yard receiver in 2007, catching nine balls for 132 yards. Gerald Jones caught just three passes for 39 yards but two of them produced first-quarter touchdowns of 20 and 14 yards.

Given that the visiting Blazers came in allowing 577.5 yards and 47 points per game, however, Tennessee's numbers (548 yards and 35 points) were not enough to satisfy Vol offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. Probably half of Crompton's 240 passing yards came on screen passes that his receivers parlayed into substantial gains. And the Vols continue to show an annoying knack for stopping themselves with untimely penalties and missed assignments.

"I still feel we made too many mistakes, whether it's illegal motion on the quarterback wedge (sneak) or giving up a sack on a bootleg" Clawson said. "There are still some things we've really got to get cleaned up to play a really good football team (Florida) like we are next week."

The fact Tennessee's tailbacks ran wild and the receivers piled up yards after the catch took a lot of pressure off of Crompton, who was making just his third career start. Clawson took even more pressure off of the junior QB by scaling back the playbook a bit from Game 1.

"I think he improved," Clawson said. "By asking him to do less, I think he was more effective. But, certainly, there are some things in the five-step (dropback passing) game that we have to do a lot better. We can't rely on throwing screens and perimeter plays on third-and-eight and third-and-nine.

"At some point we've got to protect and get the ball down the field. We didn't do that well today, so we started calling some of those screens. There's only so long that you can get away with that."

Taylor was especially productive on screen passes. He carried one 48 yards to set up Tennessee's second touchdown and lugged another one 13 yards on a third-and-eight that sustained Tennessee's fourth TD drive.

"Lucas plays the X position for us, so he has to be the Magic Man," Clawson said. "If they (opponents) are going to put the safety in the box, Lucas is going to get a lot of isolation coverage. When we started running the ball, they put the safety in the box and that gave Lucas some opportunities in space to make plays. I thought Lucas did a great job after the catch today, making the first guy miss. He took one- and eight-yard throws and made big gains for us."

Even though the passing game is still built primarily on a dink-and-dunk approach, the coordinator thought the Vols took a step forward in Game 2.

"I think we're starting to establish an offensive identity," Clawson said. "There are some core plays we're starting to get good at and we're starting to find our fastball. Now we've got to develop the other pitches we're going to need when you go against good defenses.

"I have no illusion that we're going to be able to do this (dink and dunk) against Florida. They're going to be a lot more competitive and we've got to be multi-dimensional. We can't go out there and just run the ball.

"It's nice that you can do that but at some point you've got to get over the top of people (with deep throws), too."


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