Game's simple, Clawson's not

Theories abound as to why Tennessee ranks dead last among the 12 SEC teams in pass efficiency, 11th in third-down conversions and 10th in scoring offense.

One of the more popular ones is that first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, fresh from stints as head coach at Div. 1-AA Fordham and Richmond, is in over his head at the Div. 1-A level.

Clawson, an exceptionally bright guy, insists that SEC football is no more complex than CAA football. In fact, it's a little simpler.

"I have not found the game-planning or the preparation or the play-calling to be any more difficult," he said. "If anything, I've found, overall, the defenses do less. I find this to be less of a schematic challenge and more of a match-up challenge.

"The three SEC defenses that I've coached against so far – Florida, Auburn and now Georgia – are probably schematically as basic and simple as I've seen in eight years. But they are the most talented, and they are extremely well-coached. They do what they do, and they're good at it. For the most part you know where they're going to be and you know what your match-ups are, and you need to win them."

Although SEC defenses may be simpler, Clawson's Vol offense is struggling mightily against them. Tennessee managed just 6 points in a Game 3 loss to Florida and 12 points in a Game 4 loss to Auburn. Big Orange fans are frustrated by the lack of offense. Clawson can relate.

"If you look at the numbers and the stats and how many points we're scoring," he said, "I'm certainly disappointed in that.

"I think the challenge has been trying to find ways to create mismatches and consistently winning them. In that regard, we're still working hard and trying to find the best ways to exploit those."

Clawson believes Tennessee has enough offensive weapons to win matchups and score points in bunches. The fact the Vols have yet to do so, he thinks, can be traced to a shortage of big gains.

"If you watch teams that score 30 and 40 points, it's not a methodical three and four yards," he said. "There's explosive plays in there. It's hard to go 80 yards or 60 yards without having a chunk play of 15, 18 or 25 yards. I think that continues to be one of our big offensive challenges."

Tennessee is averaging just 18 points per game, down two touchdowns from the 2007 norm of 32.5 points per game. Clawson, who previously installed his version of the West Coast Offense as coordinator at Lehigh and Villanova before serving as head man at Fordham and Richmond, says the learning curve was different at each of those four stops.

"The first time I put in the new offense at Villanova," he recalled, "right away we went from averaging 16 points a game to 32 or 33 points a game in the first year."

That's the good news. The bad news?

"Other times I've been at other places," Clawson said, "it's taken a second season."

Installing the West Coast Offense at UT might be going a lot smoother if the 2008 Vols hadn't undergone a staff exodus at the end of the '07 season.

"Certainly, the fact that we have five new coaches working together and it's a new offense, I think there are growing pains," Clawson said. "We're working hard at that and trying to get better every week."

Installing the West Coast Offense on The Hill has been further hampered by the fact the Vols have new quarterbacks and no clearcut go-to receiver this fall. Clawson encountered no such complication during the smooth transition at Villanova.

"We had a veteran quarterback and an NFL receiver in Brian Finneran," he recalled. "We had a returning tailback and a whole returning offensive line and the entire offensive staff except for myself and one other guy were theirs. There were people there that knew the personnel. It wasn't a bunch of new conversation."

Conversely, there's an awful lot of "new conversation" in Big Orange Country these days. Most of it centers around the question: "What's wrong with the Vol offense?"

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