Mistakes 'R Us

If Tennessee's offense could make plays with the regularity that it makes mistakes, the Vols would be one of the NCAA's highest-scoring outfits.

With a new offensive coordinator, a new scheme and a trio of new quarterbacks, the Big Orange attack was due some growing pains this fall. Most observers simply thought the growing process would be a little closer to completion five games into the season.

That is not the case, however.

Consider the mishaps that plagued Tennessee in Saturday night's lackluster 13-9 defeat of Northern Illinois:

POSSESSION NO. 1: Tennessee overcomes two false start penalties against guard Jacques McClendon to advance to the NIU 44-yard line. Nick Stephens completes an eight-yard pass to Josh Briscoe, who is stripped of the ball to end the drive in Huskies territory.

"That fumble was partially my fault," Stephens said. "I was trying to throw a pass to Briscoe, and I could've thrown a better ball and he could've gotten it tucked away better."

POSSESSION NO. 2: Tennessee moves to a third-and-six at its 40-yard line. Stephens completes a pass to tight end Luke Stocker, who had ended his route short of the first-down marker. The Vols punt on fourth-and-one from their own 45-yard line.

POSSESSION NO. 3: Stephens completes a five-yard pass to Gerald Jones that should give Tennessee a first-and-goal at the NIU 5-yard line. The catch is nullified by an illegal-receiver-downfield penalty, though, and the Vols wind up settling for a field goal.

"That was a miscommunication between me and Briscoe," Jones explained. "It was a quick slant pass to me, and I was supposed to get on the ball (line of scrimmage). Normally I wouldn't, but on those quick passes I was supposed to get on the ball. We didn't communicate. He (Briscoe) was on the ball, as well, covered me up and I was ineligible."

POSSESSION NO. 4: Jones drops a pass from Stephens but the Vols overcome the miscue and get a first down. Tennessee punts the ball away four plays later.

POSSESSION NO. 5: A 43-yard pass from Stephens to Jones and a four-yard run by Arian Foster give UT a second-and-six at the NIU 17-yard line. The Vols switch to the G-Gun package at this point, however, and Jones' handoff to Foster is stuffed for no gain. After an incomplete pass, Tennessee settles for another field goal.

POSSESSION NO. 6: A missed block up front enables NIU's Larry English to sack Stephens, causing a fumble the Huskies recover at Tennessee's 9-yard line.

POSSESSION NO. 7: A poor push by the offensive line dooms a third-and-inches play at the Vol 28-yard line, forcing Tennessee to punt.

POSSESSION NO. 8: Tennessee advances to the NIU 4-yard line, only to come away with zero points as Stephens is sacked for a 10-yard loss on third down and Daniel Lincoln misses a 32-yard field goal on fourth down.

POSSESSION No. 9: Apparently content to run out the clock, the Vols try three safe plays and then punt.

POSSESSION NO. 10: After a nine-yard first-down gain to the Huskies 18-yard line, Tennessee runs three poorly blocked plays into the middle of the line, losing three yards and surrendering the ball on downs.

Ultimately, self-inflicted wounds foiled at least six of Tennessee's 10 possessions Saturday night.

"At times I thought we stopped ourselves," Stephens conceded. "We left some points on the field.

"We do have to finish. We can't stop ourselves. If we do that against a team like Georgia (this weekend in Athens) it's going to hurt us a lot more than it did tonight, so we need to finish when we get to the 20-yard line."

Although he gave the passing attack a lift in his first game as the starting quarterback, Stephens got almost no support from a ground game that had been productive in Games 1, 2, 3 and 4. The Vols netted just 69 yards on 32 carries.

"It's one of those things where you just have to keep pounding the ball, get the defense tired," Stephens said. "You can't give up on the run game. If you don't start off running the ball well, you have to stick with it. You've got to run the ball well to throw the ball well, so you have to keep pounding the ball."

Still, the fact Tennessee struggled with the ground attack in Game 5 is only a mild concern. The bigger concern is the fact the Vols struggled with mistakes in Games 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

"We've got to focus on executing, got to minimize the mistakes," Jones said. "We've got to stress minimizing mistakes and just really focus on doing the right things. Some of those mistakes were just mental – some things we work on over and over in practice. We've just got to get better. Repetition will help."

Stephens thinks so, too.

"We'll get better," he said, "and we won't make those mistakes next week."


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