K.I.S.S. of death

Tennessee has more good football players than the Vanderbilt squad it will face at 11:30 Central today in Nashville, yet the Commodores have twice as many wins (6) as the Vols (3).

Here's why: Even with smarter-than-average players, Vanderbilt plays a simple scheme that is easy to understand and easy to execute. Don't take my word for that, though. Here's what Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis has to say about the Commodores:

"They're not really complicated but I think that's a compliment. They do what they do very, very well. They are as well coached as anybody in the league."

In truth, most teams that are "well coached" run schemes that are "not really complicated." Alabama, for instance. The Tide plays basic smash-mouth football, yet it is 11-0 and ranked No. 1 nationally.

During his tenure as Tennessee's offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe used to joke that he relied on a K.I.S.S. approach – the letters standing for Keep It Simple, Stupid. Although Cutcliffe took a lot of heat for his play-calling, his scheme was simple, sound and consistently productive.

Consider how the numbers he compiled in 2006 and '07 compare to those compiled the year before his return and the year after his departure:

- In 2005, with Randy Sanders coordinating the offense, Tennessee completed just 52.2 percent of its passes with a mere 11 touchdown throws. The Vols averaged 18.6 points per game.

- In 2006, with Cutcliffe running the show, Tennessee completed 63.9 percent of its passes with 24 touchdown throws. The Vols averaged 27.8 points per game.

- In 2007, with Cutcliffe again calling the shots, Tennessee completed 62.4 percent of its passes with 33 touchdown throws. The Vols averaged 32.5 points per game.

- In 2008, with Dave Clawson coordinating the offense, Tennessee is completing just 49.0 percent of its passes with a mere 7 touchdown throws. The Vols are averaging a paltry 16.0 points per game.

Randy Sanders and Dave Clawson are exceptionally bright young men. Both will be successful Div. 1-A coordinators and Div. 1-A head coaches someday. But both, in my opinion, installed schemes that were beyond the comprehension level of their players. The 2005 Vols looked confused under Sanders. The 2008 Vols have looked confused under Clawson.

There is no such confusion at Vanderbilt. The Commodores clearly find head coach Bobby Johnson's scheme user-friendly.

"Whatever it is that he sold them, they've bought into it," Chavis said. "They believe in it and they believe in him."

Frankly, I'm not sure the Vols ever bought into Clawson's scheme. His previous stint was as head coach at Div. 1-AA Richmond, a school with lofty academic standards. Maybe the Spiders were smart enough to grasp complex schemes, whereas maybe the Vols are not. How else do you explain the fact that, 10 games into the season, Tennessee's offensive players still don't appear to be on the same page?

Ultimately, I think Tennessee is headed for the losingest season in program history because the staff put more on the players than they could handle.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer admitted earlier this week that Tennessee has scaled back and simplified things quite a bit as the season progressed.

Unfortunately for the Vol Nation, the coaching staff waited a little too late to simplify. At 3-7 with two games remaining, the Big Orange already is doomed to a losing record.

And that doom, appropriately enough, was sealed with a K.I.S.S.


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