Five reasons UT will be better

Whether the won-loss record shows it or not, Tennessee should be a much better football team in 2009 than it was in 2008. Here's why:

1. The '09 offense can't be as inept as an '08 attack that gave up almost as many points as it scored:

- A Nick Stephens interception was returned 68 yards for a touchdown by Stoney Woodson and a Lennon Creer fumble was returned 38 yards by Captain Munnerlyn (setting up a 4-yard TD drive) in South Carolina's defeat of Tennessee.

- Stephens' interceptions were returned 55 yards by Mike Neuhaus (setting up a 4-yard touchdown drive) and 24 yards for a TD by Ward Dobbs in Wyoming's 13-7 upset of the Vols.

- Jonathan Crompton threw an interception that was returned 42 yards for a score by Reshard Langford, although UT managed to beat Vanderbilt anyway.

2. The ball-control attack of '09 will give the Vol defense a lot more help (and rest) than the impotent West Coast Offense of '08 did:

- Among SEC teams, only Mississippi State averaged fewer points per game than Tennessee (17.3).

- Among SEC teams, only Vanderbilt averaged fewer total yards per game than Tennessee (268.8).

- Among SEC teams, only Vanderbilt averaged fewer passing yards per game than Tennessee (145.8).

- Among SEC teams, only Vanderbilt posted a worse pass-efficiency rating than Tennessee (99.8)

- Among SEC teams, Tennessee ranked dead last in time of possession (28 minutes, 32 seconds per game), meaning the Vol defense was on the field far more than it should've been.

- Discounting a 14-point opening period vs. UAB, Tennessee scored just 3 first-quarter points in the other 11 games.

3. The Big Orange ground attack should be solid in '09, whereas it was downright anemic in '08:

- Tennessee managed just one net rushing yard (on 15 carries) in its loss to Georgia.

- The Vols ran for just 36 yards (on 21 carries) in their loss to Alabama.

- Tennessee rushed for just 34 yards (on 28 carries) in the loss to South Carolina.

- The Big Orange averaged just 3.3 yards per carry (101 yards, 31 attempts) in its stunning loss to a woeful Wyoming team.

4. Tennessee's 2008 defense, though statistically outstanding, struggled in two critical areas that project to be greatly improved this fall:

- The Vols ranked 10th among SEC teams on third down, allowing opponents to convert 37.1 percent of the time.

- Tennessee ranked 10th among SEC teams in sacks (22).

5. Special teams will be much better in '09 than it was in '08, when kicking-game mishaps killed the Vols:

- A blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the first quarter and a missed 34-yard field goal in overtime doomed UT to a Game 1 loss at UCLA.

- A 52-yard kickoff return set up one TD and a 78-yard punt return delivered another as Tennessee fell behind 17-0 in the opening minutes of a 30-6 Game 3 loss to Florida.

- Tennessee ranked 10th among the 12 SEC teams in net punting (34.9 yards).

- The Vols ranked dead last among the 12 SEC teams in field-goal kicking (10 of 19 ... 52.6 percent).

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