Hopin' to open up

Pass-happy Kentucky head coach Hal Mumme fielded an intriguing question at SEC Media Days one day in the late 1990s: If he had an unstoppable ground attack, would he be willing to stop throwing the ball?

Mumme immediately replied that he would not, explaining that a football game without plenty of passes would bore him.

Lane Kiffin can relate ... sort of. Tennessee's first-year head man called just 19 pass plays in last Saturday's 23-13 loss at Florida. The 11 completions netted a paltry 93 yards. Seven of the completions went to running backs and one to a tight end. Only three passes were caught by wide receivers, and two of those came on UT's final possession of the game.

Oddly enough, the Vols also gained precisely 93 passing yards a week earlier against UCLA, this time on 13 completions in 26 attempts.

Bottom line: The last two games have seen Tennessee complete an average of 12 passes per game for an average of 7.7 yards per completion.

Based on those numbers, you'd think Kiffin has an utter disdain for the passing game. You'd be wrong, though. His conservative approach the past two weeks was by necessity, not by choice.

"No, I don't want to play that way," he said. "That's not very fun. It's not about stats but it's not very exciting when you see you're 78th in the country in offense. Someone posted that on the back of my door, so I have to see it every morning and every night.

"It's not fun to play that way but that was what we had to do (at Florida) in that situation in that stadium versus that team at this stage of our (development as a) team."

Kiffin would like to have a more balanced attack in the weeks to come but can't guarantee that will be the case. If it gives UT a better chance to win, he will continue settling for 93 passing yards per game.

"I hope to not have to do that but I don't know that yet," he said. "We'll see how this week goes, then every week we'll have a specific game plan. Like I said when I was hired, you're going to see different offenses every week, depending on what we think we need to do to win.

"That game plan - if we would've executed and finished when we were in the red zone and not thrown that interception to start the second half - we would've put ourselves in position to win."

Naturally, you wonder: If the head man lacks the confidence to throw the ball down the field, why isn't he changing quarterbacks instead of changing game plans?

"It's my philosophy about being positive, thinking good things are going to happen," Kiffin said. "I told Nick (Stephens) when I first got here that I was going to be that way (loyal) with the starter and with whoever the next guy is."

Stephens replaced Crompton four games into the 2008 season but gave the reins back to Crompton six games later in a disastrous 5-7 season. Kiffin is determined to prevent a repeat in '09.

"There's not going to be a short leash," he said. "This isn't going to be a deal where a guy gets yanked and the next guy goes in, he plays bad, and you go back to the (original) guy. I don't think that works.

"If you make a change you better know that you're making it at the right time. You better be making it to go with the next guy ... not to put him in, him have a bad half, then go back to the other guy. It's hard to rebuild the confidence once you start doing that."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories