More and more observers are speculating that Tennessee's players are struggling to grasp first-year coordinator Dave Clawson's version of the West Coast offense, with its new terminology, new techniques, new blocking schemes and new plays. That would explain why veteran players seem tentative and mistake-prone.
So, Phillip Fulmer, is the scheme too complex?
"No," the Vols' head man said. "I think it's just new. It's a process of continuing to develop."
Although some of Tennessee's 2008 scheme is new, a lot of it is carryover from the David Cutcliffe offenses of 2006 and 2007.
"We've married a couple of the things that we've done in the past with it," Fulmer said, "and those are the things they (players) are most familiar with."
That marriage does not appear to be made in heaven, however. Tennessee ranks ninth or worse among the 12 SEC teams in virtually every offensive category.
"When you're not doing well everything is looked at with a very critical eye," Fulmer noted. "You're searching for all of those things that are an issue or could be an issue.
"There are a lot of great things about this offensive system. We've just got to get it all in sync."
Obviously, some of Tennessee's 2008 struggles are growing pains related to the introduction of new quarterbacks, new coaches and a new scheme.
"There's a transition with two new quarterbacks, a new system and several new coaches," Fulmer said. "All of the above has contributed to some of the difficulties we've had. I don't think anybody's shirking that responsibility at all.
"We need to make sure we're doing the things we can do well. It hasn't come together. We've had flashes of being really good but our consistency hasn't been what it needs to be."
Tennessee's offensive line is the top target of fan discontent this week. The blockers routinely got whipped by Georgia's defensive front last weekend in Athens. As a result, the Vols managed just 1 net rushing yard.
"Early in the season I thought we ran the football pretty well," Fulmer said. "Since people have recognized the fact we are a good running team and we've had some problems with consistent execution at quarterback, we've gotten more and more extra guys in the box. It's a bit more difficult to run the football."
Run blocking isn't the only problem, however. Last Saturday in Athens Georgia routinely managed to pressure Vol quarterback Nick Stephens using a three-man rush.
"Have we been the last couple of weeks as good in the offensive line as I expected us to be or think we should be? No," Fulmer said. "That goes back to consistency."
With all five starters back from the 2007 offensive line, the blocking front was supposed to be a team strength in '08. The fact it isn't has some observers wondering if flipping (switching guards and tackles from one side to the other depending on the play call) could be the problem.
"I think we're past the point where it's a concern," Fulmer said. "Through spring practice it was completely different for them in some ways but I think we're past that being a concern."
Clawson thinks so, too.
"If guys were busting assignments on the right side but not the left side I would say, 'You know what? The flipping is confusing them.' But we're not busting assignments," he said. "We're not turning guys loose (on the pass rush) because the right tackle accidentally stepped to the left. Those are the things I look at."
Clawson is convinced that, if flipping ever was a problem, that problem has been overcome.
"I've asked our players, and I think there's a comfort level with it now that they probably didn't have five or six weeks ago," the coordinator said. "If anything, it keeps the assignments simpler for them. We're not having a lot of assignment busts. That's where you say, 'OK, there's still confusion.' But we're stepping the right way and blocking the right guys.
"We're just not doing it as well as we need to or would like to."
Ultimately, Clawson's first priority on a play is to make sure no one in the defensive line goes unblocked.
"The way I evaluate a run play is 'Did we get a hat on a hat? Did we have everybody accounted for?' For the most part we did, yet we didn't have productive plays," the Vol aide said. "A lot of times we just did not execute as well upfront as we should or we need to."