Goal-line gaffes

There's a so-called "imaginary plane" at the goal line that a ball-carrier must cross to get credit for a touchdown. For the Tennessee Vols, there seems to be an imaginary brick wall there, as well.

Three times in the first three games the Vols advanced within a few feet of the opposing goal line only to be stopped short by their own ineptitude. Tailback Arian Foster lost a fumble at the 5-yard line in the opener against UCLA. Quarterback Jonathan Crompton surrendered a fumble at the 1 and an interception at the 1 in the second quarter of Game 3 vs. Florida.

Nice drives don't win games. Points do, and Tennessee's offense is doing a poor job of producing them this fall.

"The bottom line is that we need to put points on the board; that's the job of an offense," first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said this week. "We can talk all we want about sustaining drives, staying on the field and keeping them (opponents) off the field but if you do all of those things and don't score points, you don't give yourself a chance to win."

Clawson's frustration with the glut of goal-line gaffes is shared by Tennessee's offensive players.

"It's ridiculous," sophomore receiver Gerald Jones said. "We have a 14-play drive and a 12-play drive against Florida – a top-five team – moving the ball 60, 70 yards, and we shoot ourselves in the foot inside the 5-yard line.

"We know what we're capable of doing but we're tired of saying what we're capable of doing; we just want to do it. A lot more focus has got to be implemented this week."

The two goal-line mishaps vs. Florida were killers, enabling the Gators to go to intermission with a 20-0 lead, instead of a 20-14 lead.

"Yeah," Clawson conceded. "At halftime, instead of rallying the troops after two great drives – down six points after putting your last two drives together and scoring 14 points – you're talking to an offense that just got shut out.

"It is hard to put together a 14-play, 72-yard drive that takes up eight minutes of clock time. We may not do that again all year. To do that and not score, those are the mistakes that cost you games."

Obviously, there is a danger that the Vols might expect mishaps to occur when they approach the goal line. Thus far at least, that does not seem to be the case.

"I think we have the right mindset," Jones said. "I think we have a positive outlook on things. But when (bad) things happen, you see a head get down. It's like 'Oh, Lord, here it goes again.'

"That's not the attitude we need. When times go hard against you, you keep fighting and keep fighting. It's going to happen in the SEC. Things aren't always going to go your way. When adversity hits we just have to stay together as a team."

Clawson also dismisses the idea that the Vols have a mental block when they reach the outskirts of the end zone.

"I don't think so," he said. "I think it's too early in the season to do that. At the same time, when you fumble at UCLA, then we do it twice in the Florida game, you can't say, 'Hey, it's coincidence. It's going to take care of itself.'"

The obvious way to correct this problem would be to focus more practice time on goal-line offense.

"We really need to look at maybe taking more practice time in that area and making it very clear the plays we're going to run," Clawson said. "It probably cost us the UCLA game and it cost us a chance to be in the Florida game."

In spite of the Vols' scoring woes, the coordinator sees the offense making significant strides. He believes Tennessee should've scored on six of its nine possessions vs. the Gators.

"On three of those drives they stopped us," he said. "On three of those drives we sustained a 14-play drive, a 12-play drive and an 11-play drive. All of those drives we were on the field over four minutes but we had two turnovers inside the 5-yard line and scored on the other one."

In addition to the two second-quarter drives that ended on turnovers near the Gator goal line, Tennessee stopped itself several more times with costly penalties.

"The first drive of the game we have a second-and-one and a third-and-inches, then we have a personal foul that puts us third-and-16," Clawson recalled. "Now did Florida stop us or did we do that ourselves?

"Then we have another drive where Arian makes a great run – 26 yards down the field – and on the other side of the field we have a holding call. Now we're second-and-20 (and 36 yards farther from the end zone).

"Then we hit Montario Hardesty on a nice play down the sideline. It's a 16-yard play into their territory (Florida 37-yard line) but that comes back (due to another holding call) and we're second-and-20."

If Tennessee's players were too dumb to learn the offense, Clawson would be worried. If they were too physically limited to make plays, he would be worried. If they were too lazy to play hard, he would be worried.

"We don't have effort issues," the coordinator said. "We have some major execution issues and I think we have some focus issues."

Those focus issues tend to crop up just as the Vols appear on the verge of crashing into the end zone.

"Five drives (in the Florida game) we stopped ourselves," Clawson said. "The positive is, you're not sitting there saying, 'Gee, we don't have good players.' We moved the ball, sustained drives, did things in terms of balance we wanted to do and we kept them off the field. The problem is, we keep shooting ourselves in the foot, and it's not like the first time it's happened."

Based on practice performances, head coach Phillip Fulmer is surprised by the rash of drive-killing miscues the Vols are making in games.

"We can't be making mistakes in ball games that we've done right in practice," he said. "There has to be carryover. That's happening a few too many times.

"It's frustrating (for the staff) but it's more frustrating for the team. They're the ones out there laying it on the line."

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