UT looking for answers

Jonathan Crompton is looking for rhythm. Dave Clawson is looking for an identity. Brandon Warren is looking for some touches. Luke Stocker is looking for some Super Glue to rub on his palms.

Most of all, Tennessee's offense is looking for answers after two underwhelming performances. The attack unit was downright feeble in a 27-24 Game 1 loss to a UCLA team that was blown out 59-0 by Brigham Young last Saturday. The offense looked only marginally better in a 35-3 Game 2 defeat of a UAB team that currently ranks dead last among 119 Div. 1-A teams in total defense.

If the plan was to make the fourth-ranked Florida Gators overconfident heading into this Saturday afternoon's game at Neyland Stadium, the Vols are doing a bang-up job. If the plan was anything else, however, there is cause for alarm. The Big Orange offense is struggling mightily, despite a few comments to the contrary.

Crompton said the Vols made "a few minor mistakes" vs. UAB, adding: "Other than that, I think we did a good job."

Later, he noted that "The first drive we kind of stopped ourselves. From then on we had a few pretty good drives."

Most of Tennessee's "pretty good drives" came after the Vols quit trying to throw the football and embraced Phillip Fulmer's "Pound The Rock" mantra. After rushing 12 times for 56 yards in the first half, Tennessee ran the ball 29 times for 210 yards in the second half.

After noting that the Vols had "a crapload of plays against UCLA," receiver Gerald Jones said Tennessee trimmed the fat from its playbook against UAB. In his words: "Today we was like, 'This is what we're going to run, and we're going to keep running it, going to keep running and we're going to make you stop us.' That's what we did. We did a great job doing that."

Crompton conceded that the Vols "changed a few things up. We didn't know exactly what UAB was going to do, so we simplified a few things."

If the junior quarterback was upset that he spent the last two quarters of the UAB game handing the ball off instead of throwing it, he masked his feelings well.

"We've got great offensive linemen and good running backs," he said. "That's how it's going to be. If we want to pound it we can pound it."

Acknowledging that UAB defenders "started wearing down" in the third quarter, Crompton praised his offensive linemen for maintaining a high energy level on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon.

"It's tough, and they did a great job," he said. "They're in great shape. That's why we pushed in the offseason – getting in shape for days when you play at 12:30, it's 90 degrees and you can't really breathe out there. I want to commend them for the job they did."

He did not commend Stocker, a usually sure-handed tight end who dropped everything but his pants Saturday afternoon. Had Stocker caught three balls that hit him in the hands, Crompton's Game 2 stats would've improved from 19 of 31 for 240 yards to 22 of 31 for roughly 280 yards. Former Vol Jason Witten, now an All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys, had a similarly butter-fingered day against Florida in 2001, so fans should not give up on Stocker because of one nightmarish performance.

If Stocker continues to struggle, though, fans will see more throws to Warren, a Florida State transfer with tremendous receiving skills. The 6-1, 225-pound sophomore caught two balls for 48 yards vs. UAB, including a 42-yard catch/run that got the Vols off their own 3-yard line.

Although backup QB Nick Stephens threw the long pass to Warren, Crompton said his timing with Warren is "coming along great," adding: "Every day in practice we're getting more and more comfortable with each other ... knowing how he runs routes and how I throw the ball to him."

Warren should be a major player in the "offensive identity" first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson says Tennessee is still trying to establish. Clawson insists that the Vols will continue striving to give Warren a beefier role in the scheme.

For the time being, though, Tennessee's offensive identity is an unpopular one. Stocker heard some boos after his third drop on Saturday and Crompton heard some boos after throwing a third-quarter interception, his second of the game. He also heard some strong words from Fulmer upon reaching the Vol sidelines.

"His message was to be smart with the ball and (mindful of) field position," Crompton noted. "Football is a game of inches and field position. That's what we've got to understand. I think I may have forced it a little bit; I'm not 100 percent sure."

He can be 100 percent sure of this: If Tennessee's offense isn't significantly better in Game 3 than it was in Games 1 and 2, the Vols likely will be humiliated on their home field by Florida this weekend.

Crompton believes he and his teammates made strides from Game 1 to Game 2 and will make even bigger strides between now and Game 3.

"Oh yeah. I'll be in more of a rhythm," he said. "That's just how it goes. Every week you get more comfortable and all of that.... I felt more of a rhythm today. Week to week I'll just keep getting more comfortable with it."


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