"I don't think I ever walked off the practice field here, saying, 'We're finally close to where we need to be.'"
That assessment proved correct. The Vols' 2008 offense is one of the worst in all of college football. Through 11 games Tennessee ranks No. 96 among the 119 Div. 1-A programs in rushing (115 yards per game), No. 105 in passing (149.9 yards per game), No. 116 in total offense (264.9 yards per game) and No. 114 in scoring (16.36 points per game).
"Is it part personnel, part scheme, part a new coach? It's probably all of those things," Clawson said. "But I don't think at any point, as an offensive unit, we had confidence going into a game ... or even into a scrimmage.
"It was very apparent to me all spring that the defense was a lot better than we were on offense. That held up the whole spring, through camp and it held up through the season. We never had a scrimmage that we just went up and down the field or that we didn't have a critical turnover in the orange area. Those things just don't disappear through the course of a season. You don't just hope they're going to go away."
Head coach Phillip Fulmer, forced to resign in part because of this team's offensive shortcomings, said several factors were responsible for the Vols' scoring woes.
"The change in systems was harder than I ever imagined it would be; it slowed things down considerably," Fulmer said. "Then we never really got on the same page from a passing game standpoint. It might be the linemen not protecting well, it might be a route run, it might be a dropped ball or it might be a back not protecting well or it might be a quarterback not reading it out and taking what was given. There's just all kinds of things that have been an issue. Even with all of that, we should've been better than we were offensively."
As broken as the offense is, the head man believes he could've fixed it had he been allowed to return for 2009.
"I do think if you give a little time to adjust to the staff, adjust to the system and make whatever changes you needed to make, we would've had it right back on track," he said. "I do believe that."
Fulmer said he recognized Tennessee's offensive shortcomings in Game 1 against the defensively challenged UCLA Bruins. The Vols scored 24 points that evening but seven came on an interception return for touchdown in a 27-24 overtime loss.
Just how woeful the UT attack was became obvious when the Vols squandered repeated second-half scoring opportunities in a 14-12 Game 4 loss at Auburn. The low point of the season, however, occurred when Tennessee mustered just one score in a 13-7 Homecoming loss to Wyoming.
"UCLA and Auburn – if we win those two – and then the Wyoming game, we're sitting here playing for our eighth win," Fulmer said. "Say what you want; that's the truth."
Clawson said he simplified the offense considerably as the season wore on in an effort to help the players grasp it.
"My thing is, if you're struggling and not doing well, it's always better to do less than do more," he said. "We pared it down to a point that we're a lot more predictable than we'd like to be and a lot more one-dimensional than we'd like to be. When I took the job, certainly, what we're doing now is not what I envisioned this offense looking like. When you struggle, that happens."
Incredibly, the offense made no noticeable progress from Game 1 to Game 11 – an occurrence that befuddled Clawson and doomed Fulmer.
"The disappointment," Clawson said, "is that we haven't had more improvement."