When asked why a big-play threat such as Creer did not get a single scrimmage touch last weekend, head coach Phillip Fulmer answered without hesitation:
"When you have 51 plays and four series in the first half ... it's very difficult to get anybody (playing time off the bench). There's a lot of people I'd like to play. First and foremost, you do what you've got to do to win the game. There's one football, and you can't give it to everybody at the same time."
With Northern Illinois crowding the line of scrimmage, Tennessee managed just 69 net rushing yards in a lethargic 13-9 victory. A speedster like Creer might have turned the corner and turned the game around had he gotten a few carries, but the Vol staff says there wasn't time.
"I'd like to get it back to where it used to be when we'd have 70 to 75 plays in a game," Fulmer said. "Part of that problem is the 40-second clock. It's really putting a premium on field position and making a play in the kicking game or making a chunk play somewhere. If a team takes a drive 10 plays and you take a drive 10 plays, you're getting close to the half. There's just not as much time to do things."
Dave Clawson echoed Fulmer's comments. When asked if the Vols will play Creer this weekend at Georgia, the offensive coordinator replied: "We'd like to (but) I hope we can run more than 50 or 55 plays.
"When you're in a tight game, the back you have in there is productive and you don't have the ball that much, sometimes you're a little reluctant ... you know, when do you put him in?" Clawson said. "In the first half we only had 20 plays."
The coordinator had every intention of utilizing Creer once the Vols got some breathing room. The problem was, Tennessee NEVER got any breathing room.
As Clawson recalled: "In the second half, the first few times we go down the field and we get a field goal and we score a touchdown and now you're thinking, 'Get him in.' And then their team (NIU) takes the ball and goes all the way down and now it's a one-score game again.
"Now you're late in the third quarter, and do you want to put a back in for the first time at that point in the game when your other back has been productive? I was really disappointed that we didn't get him in more, but I know why we didn't."
Although the new clock rule is shortening the game, there is a recourse available that can lengthen the game. A no-huddle offense can save 10 seconds per play, and that can produce an additional dozen or so snaps over the course of a 60-minute game.
Tennessee used a no-huddle offense in 2007, so why not go back to it now that the clock is such a limiting factor?
"It's something that has been discussed," Fulmer conceded, adding that the idea of increasing snaps via a no-huddle offense is "true and not true." He says the Vols discovered as much last fall.
"Sometimes we were able to snap the ball with 10 seconds (left on the play clock) and over time that would gain some minutes," he noted. "But there were a lot of times in the no-huddle that we were at the line of scrimmage, went through a cadence to try to see what they (defense) were in. Now the play comes in and we give it to everybody. There wasn't really a lot of difference (in time consumed before snapping the ball)."
Although he seems intrigued by the prospect of returning to the no-huddle attack, Fulmer added that "We don't think we're where we can do that right now all the time."
That's because the staff wants the game to slow down – not speed up – for quarterback Nick Stephens, who has just one career start to his credit.
Clawson conceded that the no-huddle attack can provide a team with more snaps, then added: "But then you risk, at times, running bad plays."
Since Tennessee is running enough bad plays already, the Vols are unlikely to try the no-huddle attack anytime soon. That probably means the Big Orange will continue getting 55 or so snaps per game ... and Lennon Creer will continue waiting for an opportunity.