No 7-percent solution

Tennessee's John Chavis is making progress. He used to be known facetiously as the King of Third-and-Long. Now he's the King of Third-and-Short.

As Vol fans are acutely aware, even the stoutest defenses of Chavis' 14-year tenure as UT's defensive coordinator tended to struggle when they had an opponent on the ropes – routinely allowing a 10-yard draw on third-and-nine ... a 15-yard pass on third-and-14 ... a 12-yard scramble on third-and-11. You get the idea.

This year Tennessee ranks dead last among the 12 SEC programs in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 42.1 percent of the time.

Still, Chavis reports that UT's stats on third-and-long (more than 6 yards) are exceptional. The Vols' stats on third-and-medium (3 to 6 yards) are half-decent. As for their stats on third-and-short (2 or less yards) ... well, those couldn't get much worse.

"I've gone back and charted every down," the veteran coordinator said. "Going into the Georgia game, we were just a tad over 79 percent (stopping the opponent) on third-and-long. That means that basically eight out of every 10 third-and-longs we'd been successful. That's a good number.... If you can be around 80 percent on third-and-long I think you're doing pretty good."

Even after allowing the Bulldogs to convert several third-and-long situations last Saturday, Tennessee still has a 75-percent success rate stopping third-and-long plays. Chavis said the Vols are getting stops "about 58 percent" of the time on third-and-medium – a figure he conceded "isn't high enough."

That brings us to third-and-short ...

"What's killing us is third-and-short," Chavis said. "We've had one stop out of 14 on third-and-short. We're at 7 percent on third-and-short. That's what's killing us and that's what's keeping us on the field."

The coordinator said past Tennessee defenses typically posted stops on roughly 50 percent of third-and-short plays. Thus, 7 percent represents quite a drop-off.

"Seven-percent is awful," he said. "There have been a couple of bad calls that I made. There have been a couple of stops we should've made that we didn't make. It's a little bit here and a little bit there but that's unacceptable ... to be seven percent on third-and-short."

Georgia completed some key third-and-medium or third-and-long passes Saturday in Athens, sustaining several time-consuming drives that enabled the Dawgs to pile up a whopping 42:04 to 17:12 advantage in time of possession. Many Vol fans grumbled that the passes were easy to complete because UT's cornerbacks were playing too soft (far from the line of scrimmage).

Chavis disputes the claim.

"I don't think we played soft," he said. "There were times in the Georgia game that our corners did line up a little deeper than we wanted them to. There were times in the run game that we had a corner or two that bailed when they were supposed to be playing a different technique.

"But I wouldn't qualify what we do in the secondary as soft."


Inside Tennessee Top Stories