Last chance for UT offense

Earlier this week Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson responded to a question about the Kentucky Wildcats' defense by noting:

"They're a team you've really got to find ways to make big plays against. Teams that have moved the ball against Kentucky have been able to big-play 'em."

Approximately 10 minutes later, Clawson responded to a question about the season-long struggles of Tennessee's offense by noting:

"The biggest thing is just our lack of ability to make big plays."

Did that sound ominous or what?

Regardless, a Kentucky defense that seems susceptible to the big play will face a Tennessee offense that seems incapable of the big play this evening at Neyland Stadium in the regular-season finale for each program. Kickoff is set for 6:30 with ESPN2 televising.

Clawson's comment regarding the lack of big plays by Tennessee's offense this fall is on the money. The 2008 Vols have completed 21 passes of 20 yards or longer, a dizzying drop from the 48 they had in 2007.

The big-play drought is a major reason the Vols rank No. 114 among 119 NCAA Div.1-A teams in scoring, averaging just 16.36 points per game.

"Good offenses, explosive offenses, make big plays," Clawson mused.

Big plays were about as common as four-leaf clovers on The Hill this fall, a fact the coordinator readily concedes.

"There was never a screen pass that hit a seam that went 70 yards," he said. "There was never a toss sweep that we bounced it and hit a seam. Everything was so workmanlike.

"Against all the different defenses, all the different zone blitzes and all the different pressures ... at some point you've got to sting 'em. I can think of a handful of plays this year that we really stung people: The big post to Denarius Moore in the Georgia game and the Northern Illinois game. Those are two of the explosive plays we had this year. And the one sideline pass we hit to (Josh) Briscoe in the UCLA game.

"Usually, in a good season, there's more of those plays than you can remember. I can count our explosive plays on one or two hands."

Clawson is frustrated, and understandably so. The 2008 offense is UT's worst since the 1964 team scored just 80 points en route to a 4-5-1 record in Doug Dickey's second year as head coach. The 2008 offense is largely responsible for UT's 4-7 record. And the 2008 offense is largely responsible for head coach Phillip Fulmer's forced resignation.

Clawson was considered a rising star in the coaching profession when he joined the Vol staff last January. The offenses he molded during his previous stints as head coach at Fordham and Richmond routinely made yards in chunks and scored points in bunches. Not this one.

"Whenever I've had offenses that scored 30 and 40 points in a game there's always two or three quick strikes," he said, "but we have not generated those plays very well this year."

At times it appeared that Tennessee's players never really bought into Clawson's West Coast attack. He admits as much.

"I don't fault them. There was never enough sustained success for them to really buy into it," he said. "I don't fault them for it. I thought they continued to work hard. I think they believed in what we're trying to do.

"It just never clicked."

With just 60 minutes of football left to be played, it's now or never.

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